HAS SPRING TRAINING STARTED YET?

They tell me that our Buccos are in Bradenton getting ready to put on another imitation of a Major League Baseball team. It must be true because I’ve seen pictures in the papers. I haven’t read any of the stories because I go out of my way to avoid them.

One story that was too important to ignore surfaced a few weeks ago when there were reports that Mario Lemiuex and the guy who provides most of the money for the Penguins franchise, Ron Buerkle were interested in buying the Pirates. The ever dwindling number of people who actually can legitimately call themselves Pirates fans were beside themselves.

They had visions of Lemieux riding to the rescue the way he did with the Penguins. They were so happy that most of them forgot how bad the Penguins were under Lemieux when they were playing in a league that was worse than Major League baseball.

The Penguins also took some well deserved criticism for leaking the story on Pirates Fest weekend. Bob Nutting made it clear that he had no intention of selling the team and that really whipped the fans into a frenzy. That gets me around to a suggestion that I made in a column at the time.

If you are a real Pirates fan who still insists on going to PNC Park and you would like to let your feelings about the Nuttings known, get yourself a Mario Lemieux jersey and wear it to every game. Encourage everybody to do the same. If you don’t want to spend money on a jersey, get a t-shirt and paint 66 on it.

As the season goes along, encourage more people to do the same.

Organize large groups to go to games dressed in 66 shirts and sit in the same section.

Be creative. There are lots of ways to get the message out.

Try to schedule an unofficial “66 Night” and get the word out for everybody who’s going to the game on that night and wants to send a message to the Nuttings to wear a 66 shirt.

If you get enough people to do it, you’re almost guaranteed national exposure.

Of course, if you don’t want to do that, you can always just keep giving the smartest professional team owners in North America your money and enjoying the food while you complain about the baseball.

  • Billyho

    Can’t a class action law suit be filed against ownership? I mean – taxpayers funded that stadium with at least a non-verbal agreement it would be for a major league baseball team. I honestly believe there is a legit argument to make that the Pirates have not been operated like a major league team since the stadium opened and therefore the Pirates did not live up to their ebnd of the agreement. Of course, the 66 night is a good idea, I might fly back to pittsburgh to partake. On a side note – as an ex-Burgher in Minnesota – I have watched the Twins (just getting their new stadium this year and about to sign Mauer to a huge deal!) compete and make the playoffs almost every year for the past 6 years. They have a comparable market, but yet a solid and legit. ownership group.

    • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

      Until recently, the Twins have been in the top two payrolls within their division. That has helped them compete.

      • Billyho

        True! And that helps make my point: Twins in a “small market” but willing to invest in players. Pirates = “small market + new stadium” and do not invest.

        • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

          Minneapolis is a bigger market than Pgh. The Twins could compete because the other teams…Detroit anbd for a long time Chicago.. weren’t spending a lot of money. How many playoff series have they won? Bob Nutting is the smartest owner in sports. He watches Kansas City up their payroll to 68 million and still finish fifth. he keeps his payroll under 50 million and pockets the 15-20 million that the Royals throw down the toilet. And the fans keep coming. I will never understand it.

          • Billyho

            I agree – Nutting is the most brilliant owner in sports; and Pittsburgh is the poorer for it. Does any community deserve a perennial winner? No. But does a city that has committed financial resources to a team deserve an ownership that at least sniffs competitiveness once every 10 year? I say yes. I know others agree of course. But to those who say not showing up would be worse that where we are I say bunk. Don’t show, don’t buy merchandise, don’t contribute to your own abuse — cause Nutting is abusing Pirate fans and the city. Stay away for a year — go watch Pony league games; or take up an outdoor hobby. Sure, listen on the radio if you must – but, in general, just say no!

  • Bill

    Maybe I should wear my Sidney Crosby jersey? He’s the only reason people think Lemieux is a good owner. If the ping pong balls bounce a different way, no Crosby, no arena, no Cup, no Penguins.

    • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

      What if the ping pong balls had bounced differently a year earlier and they had ended up with Ovechkin? Obviously getting Crosby was luck but signing r, drafting Fleury, Orpik, Letang, Talbot, Staal, and trsding for Hossa, Gueriun, Kunitz etc had nothing to do with luck. Nor did the willingness to spend the money to keep Malkin, Crosby, Fleury and Staal.

      • Bill

        O sorry, I didn’t realize Lemieux made all the personel decisions. Ray Shero must just be a figurehead.

        And last I checked, the Penguins typically fall in the 45-55 million range that the Pirates typically do, so it’s not like Lemieux/Burkle should be confused with the Boss either.

        • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

          OK. Sorry. I should have suggested that people wear Ray Shero jerseys to PNC Park. My bad. The Penguins are in a league that has a salary cap. The Boss is not. That’s why MLB is a joke.

  • bridget

    Your analogy is bad. Wages at a Mcdonalds in Pa are not aligned with what a Mcdonalds pays in Fla.There is no cap on wages. I work for a large franchise. They also don’t give you the choice of the best “employees” if you are bad or give you a weaker schedule. They go out of business or lose the franchise name. I simply wrote this to point out your ideology is contradictory to your rant about baseball, as it is the closest to a free market. verses hockey or football. They do have a socialized structure whether you want to face it or not..

    • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

      Baseball has an anti-trust exemption. Can the Pirates decide to move to New York to increase their TV revenue? You’re talking about two different things. The government FORCING the redistribution of wealth and a company (NFL, NHL) VOLUNTARILY deciding to share revenue. Not even close.

  • BURGHBOY

    First of all John, I’m late to your new site, but very glad to see it here. Enjoyed listening to you on the short lived “man station” and your time on KDKA. Agree or disagree with you, you make me think, and I enjoy that.

    On this topic, I think that sadly the Mario protest won’t work because most of the fans that go are now trained to merely ACCEPT what it going on. Or better yet, management could care less as long as you buy a ticket to attempt your protest. That’s why although I could appreciate the passion of the former ‘irate fans’ and their protest a few seasons ago, it was ineffective because THEY PAID FOR A SEAT.

    I know that your focus here is more toward the “real Pirates fan that insists on going to PNC Park”, but that is such a minority in that park on a bobblehead/fireworks/washed up concert night it would never work.

    Sadly, most of the “true PIrate fans” chose to give their tickets up seasons ago, or continue to put money into the pockets of this ownership. The Pirates in turn have found enough of a herd to enjoy ” a night out at the ballpark” or to watch stars of MLB that are on the opposition.

    Sorry for the rant.

  • bridget

    How do you rail against baseball which has no cap and in the same breath you advocate free market in your politics. A little contradictory to say the least. I guess those “socialized leagues” aren’t so bad afterall.

    • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

      Another bad analogy. The government can FORCE changes in the market. MLB is like a big corporation. It can set rules for its franchises the same way that McDonald’s does. All the McDonald’s stores have rules that they abide by that help all the franchisees. Not the same at all as socialism. I’m 100 percent in favor of MLB having whatever system it wants and 100 percent against intervening. The free market would prevail if the fans in the small market cities stopped going to games. That’s what happened in the NHL. The Pirates should be able to refuse to allow the Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies etc to televise their games out of PNC Parkl unless they get half the TV revenue. You don’t like the free market?

  • Rich

    Are the Pirates still in the National League? I thought they played in the American Association. Wait that league no longer exists. How about the International League? The PCL? Big East?

  • Q

    John – thank you for the response regarding parity in baseball. I really get annoyed when people throw out teams like the Marlins winning the WS and suddenly all teams are created equal. There was an SI article where Tom Verducci threw out a stat that said the Yanks and Red Sox have accounted for 38% of the AL Playoff teams since Wild Card Era. To all those that can’t do the math, if they both made it every year, that would be 50%. Completely outrageous that MLB let’s teams dominate like that. Their latest “floating divisions” proposal is also completely crazy as well.

    Payroll numbers, while not the sole influence with regards to success, still has a major impact. First and foremost, the Pirates have made horrible baseball decisions. Until those get fixed, then we will get a true idea of the Bucs front office is willing to spend the month to keep these star players.

    • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

      I would say first and foremost the Pirates are hampered by a stupid system.

  • Andy C

    Interesting idea John…

    Being one that knows a few things about protests (June 30, 2007 3rd inning walk off), I’ve found that the new Management regime has alot of folks believing they are on the “right” track.

    When the Pirates passed on drafting Matt Weiters (see recent Sports Illustrated cover), and took the 200th best propect in the draft there was no clearer sign to me that winning would never be a priority with this Ownership group. So we took a stand and did both an “out of game” and “in game” protest. I must say there were many creative shirts in the stands that night (Worst Owners in Baseball) and my favorite “Axis of Evil” which pictured Nutting, McClathchy and Littlefield faces across the shirt.

    Believe it or not, the fan approval rating is up (unofficially of course).
    How could it be any worse than doing the equivalent of passing on Sydney Crosby to save payroll $’s (which is what many likened the 2007 draft to).

    Kind of sad, but the Pirates have become lovable losers (or a funny punch line) to a community that recognizes that realistically the sucess of the Steelers, Penquins and Pitt Hoops is quite a blessing for a smaller market like Pittsburgh.

    So we go take our kids to a handful of games to enjoy the Stadium we as Taxpayers paid for and tell them tales of what meaningful baseball in late Summer and pennant races were all about.

    Unfortunately the only races my kids know about at PNC Park are Perogie races 🙁

    Walk me up when the nightmare is over John!!!

  • Ochotexto

    Perhaps the Pirates newly acquired SS Bobby Crosby can wear #87.? They could sell many of those shirts and the Nuttings could again capitalize on something other winning baseball. Anyone who bought a ticket after the Aramis Ramirez giveaway is a sucker; that includes me. JS; you were way ahead of the curve on this one.

  • Chris

    John a little off topic but baseball relanted but wanted to throw this stat at you.

    Of the 30 teams in MLB 22 have made the playoffs in this decade.

    No repeat champions like NFL, NHL, & NBA

    The highest payrolled Yankees prior to 2009 did not in the world series since 2000.

    Tampa Bay one of the low payrolled teams went to the 2008 World Series. Florida perenially has the lowest payroll in the majors and are competitive year in and year out even winning a World Series.

    My point baseball is by far the most parity driven sport of all. Rant what you want about payroll but just wanted to throw that out at you and the Pirates problem is not all MLB. It is mainly poor management and ownership that has been the problem the last 17 years.

    Now i am not defending the system in anyway shape or form. However i am just pointing out the facts to you. And you are telling people to stop going to the games let me tell you you are hurting the little man more than you are hurting Bob Nutting. You are hurting Concession Workers, Ushers, Security. So boycotting is not the answer.

    And i see hope for the future. If McCutchen continues to impress. Jones follows up his impressive rookie season and the pitching and hitting comes around we could be in for a surprising season and many others.

    Sorry for the long post but just wanted to speak out

    • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

      Sigh. I’ve heard this before. It’s a joke. I’ve written columns about this and I don’t have all the numbers available right now. I’ll try to find the column and link it but all you need to do is check the standings in each division for the past several years and match them up with the payroll ranking for the teams in the division. Off the top of my head, I can tell you that the highest paid teams in each of the three AL divisions finished first.

      The Dodgers had the highest payroll in the West and finished first. The Mets were decimated by injuries (the great equalizer) so the team with the second highest payroll in the division finished first. I think the Cardinals had the second highest payroll in the Central last season and won the division. If you go back 12 years, I think you’ll find that in 11 of the World Series there was at least one team from NY, LA Chic, or Boston. It’s such an absurd statement to say that there is more parity in baseball it’s almost not worth arguing.

      The Pirates, Reds and Royals were the three best organizations in baseball prior to and immediately after free agency. You know how bad the Pirates have been for the last 17 years. The Reds haven’t been to the playoffs in 20 years and the Royals last appearance was 25 years ago. Part of it is bad management but these people didn’t suddenly get stupid at the same time.

      The numbers just don’t back up what you’re saying if you match payroll ranking with how teams finish in their division. There are exceptions but any league that has it set up so that some teams need a near miracle to win isn’t worth talking about it my book.

      As far as hurting the little guy. That may be true in the short run, but if things don’t change, the wind will be whistling through PNC Park because there willbe no fans and no team.

  • Hell Unleashed

    John,

    Your suggestion regarding Mario night at PNC Park has one major flaw (if not many more) – having to sit through the unwatchable Pirates playing baseball.

    We are approaching the point where any fans in PNC Park will be welcome by the current ownership, regardless if they are just there to protest or make a statement. I honestly believe that ownership is only interested in making a marginal profit. Whether fans show up or not, they will have their marginal profit. 1 or none can show up and they will make money, thanks to T.V. and other revenue streams in the current MLB system.

    I am doing my part; I refuse to go any longer and will not tune into their games on TV. Over the past few years, I have turned down countless free tickets from friends to go to Pirate games, since they were not using their tickets. I will not even go when the ticket is free, as I will not allow Nutting to get his grimy hands on one dollar from me by using concessions, merchandise, or parking.

    The only change in this cycle of losing and bad ownership will be when:

    1. Corporate season ticket holders decide not to buy this awlful product. These companies buying season tickets are having trouble finding people to take their tickets off their hands. They go unused after Opening Day, when we are beyond being able to contend past day one of a new optomistic season. When are the companies going to realize that their clients are insulted by being offered a ticket to this garbage? If they want to treat their clients or win business, they should go with other sporting events / outlets.

    2. When does their losing inpact the T.V. contract? At some point FSN or future TV contracts should be affected by no one watching the games or advertising revenue disappearing for Pirates games.

    Otherwise, the cycle of futility will continue decade after decade. MLB has shown they have no interest in improving the economics of the game in providing a competitive balance for small market teams.

    • http://justwatchthegame.com JohnSteigerwald

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course, my preference would be for everybody to totally ignore the Pirates. This idea is for people who insist on going to the games.