Joe Tuscano Column

Time to celebrate the Pirates?

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When Atlanta’s Sid Bream slid across home plate in the National League Championship Series in 1992, it began a two-decade long wake for the Pirates.


That’s how long it would take for this organization to finally recover from that devastating loss, 21 seasons of losses and disappointments. Consider this: a baby born during the 1992 NLCS would be about a sophomore in college now, without ever having witnessed the Pirates finish a regular season with a winning record.


How can you celebrate such ineptitude? And believe me, there has been a great deal of ineptitude.


This organization had one of its players playfully club a woman dressed in a sausage outfit to the ground in a Milwaukee Brewers between-innings race, and it might have been the best contact Randall Simon made that season.


How inept have the Pirates been in 21 years?


This organization consistently drafted players in the top 10 or 15 over that time and struck out more times than Pedro Alvarez.


The Pirates took shortstop Mark Farris one pick ahead of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra in the 1994 draft; they chose Chad Hermansen seven picks ahead of Roy Halladay the following year; they took J.J. Davis eight picks ahead of Lance Berkman in 1997; they took someone called Clint Johnston five picks ahead of C.C. Sabathia in 1998; grabbed pitcher Bobby Bradley one pick ahead of Barry Zito and two ahead of Ben Sheets in 1999; and made Bryan Bullington the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, passing on B.J. Upton, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain.


And who can forget the debacle of 2007, when Pittsburgh selected relief pitcher Daniel Moskos over catcher Matt Wieters because Scott Boras was Wieters’ agent? Having to negotiate with the hard-liner Boras spooked the organization.


How inept have the Pirates been in 21 years?


They traded not one, but two power-hitting third basemen: Aramis Ramirez and Jose Bautista, the former in a salary dump and the latter because of impatience. Ramirez and Bautista have combined for 563 home runs, 352 by Ramirez and 211 by Bautista.


They traded All-Star Jason Bay in 2008 and received four players in return. The only one still remaining, Bryan Morris, is a marginal relief pitcher.


How inept have the Pirates been in 21 years?


They have signed enough over-the-hill players to nearly field a full lineup. The most embarrassing of those was Derek Bell, who said he was going into the now infamous “Operation Shutdown” after finding out he would not be a starter for the 2001 team. Bell hit .193 the year before so it’s debatable wen that shutdown began.


The most expensive was the $10 million gift David Littlefield gave to the organization in a trade for Matt Morris, who in two partial seasons went 3-8 with a 7.04 ERA.


Arguably, the most oft-injured free agent was second baseman Pat Mears, whose wrist injury cost him 141 games of the 1999 season and flared up again over the next two seasons until he was gone.


What makes this season even more improbable is that it was accomplished with an owner most fans felt likes to spend money about as much as he like to brush his teeth with a wire brush.


Owner Bob Nutting, despite his sometimes frugal ways, has to be given a great deal of credit for building this organization into a winner. The Pirates have opened their wallets to land third baseman Pedro Alvarez in 2008, highly regarded prospect Jameson Taillon in 2010 and pitcher Gerrit Cole in 2011. They also weren’t frightened off by Boras, taking two of his clients in Alvarez and Mark Appel last season. Appel refused to sign and ended up the No.1 pick in this year’s draft.


At least they tried, which is more than the organization can say about some of its players over this losing streak.


No parades were planned for win No. 82, and it swiftly passed by after a 1-0 victory over Texas Monday night in which Cole pitched one of his better games.


Unless there is a third consecutive massive meltdown – that’s not likely – the Pirates will be back in the playoffs, a nice touch since the heartbreak of 1992.


Say, if the Pirates do have a home playoff game, maybe Bream should throw out the first pitch.



Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at jtuscano@observer-reporter.com


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