Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Deals that Built the Bucs

Famed author C.S. Lewis once said, “With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere.” For Pirates fans, it’s very easy to identify where they Pirates two decades of failure began (Thanks, Sid Bream). But these are the new Pirates, a group of players to whom losing a game has seemed foreign for the past two months. But as Lewis stated, these Pirates had to begin somewhere.

July 26, 2008

Pirates send Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Yankees for Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Daniel McCutchen

This was perhaps the best trade of the Huntington era in terms of total value. Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady never truly caught on in New York. Nady played admirably for the remainder of the 2008 season, while Marte starred in the 2009 playoffs, but never much beyond that.

The Pirates ended up having all four of their minor leaguers in the deal spend time with the club. Ohlendorf has moved on, and McCutchen is in AAA this year after spending most of last year in the Pirates bullpen. Tabata has had decent success as the Pirates leadoff hitter, but is struggling to regain his form.

The biggest catch of that group was perhaps the one least likely, Jeff Karstens. He has been one of pitching coach Ray Searage’s biggest successes. While not having an overpowering fastball (90-92 mph), he exhibits tremendous control over his breaking pitches. If the Pirates are going to make a run in the playoffs, you can bet that Karstens will play a key role.

June 30, 2009

Pirates send Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan

Nyjer Morgan has admittedly had more success in the major leagues than I ever thought he would. For a former hockey player with an eclectic personality, he’s done quite well for himself.

But this trade has been instrumental in the Pirates success. Milledge may have fizzled out, but Joel Hanrahan is a two-time All-Star who has become an elite closer in the majors. Back in 2009, the Pirates didn’t have to worry about that too often. Now that they’ve started their winning ways, we see how important it is to have a shutdown guy in the bottom of the 9th. Another great deal for Neal.

July 31, 2010

Pirates send Octavio Dotel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andrew Lambo and James McDonald

Given what we know now, this trade is laughable. Dotel pitched in all of 19 games for LA, and was dealt in September of 2010 to the Rockies. James McDonald, in turn, has become one of the elite pitchers in the National League. But it’s very easy to forget that he essentially was a toss-in. The one that the Pirates were particularly interested in was Lambo, who was one of the darlings of the Dodgers organization, until he got into issues with PED use. Here in Pittsburgh, he’s become a forgotten man in the Pirates minor league system. Seriously, totally forgotten. Like, I don’t know where he is. Remember that kid from The Sandlot that got really into the 60s, and no one ever saw him again? That’s Andrew Lambo.

June 13, 2011

Pirates acquire Michael McKenry from the Red Sox in exchange for a Primanti’s Capicola and Egg sandwich or something like that.

McKenry may not be tall enough to ride everything at Kennywood, but his value to this team has been beyond measure. Right now he’s averaging a home run every 15 at-bats. That’s just insane for a player like him.

July 21, 2011

Pirates sign Jason Grilli to a minor league deal.

Why the hell didn’t anybody want this guy?

February 18, 2012

Pirates trade Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno to the Yankees for A.J. Burnett

If you had to Google search Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno, you’re not alone. I still don’t know who they are. Nor do I care.

Before the season, I said I thought Burnett was a mediocre pitcher, and I think I even compared him to Matt Morris at one point. That shows you how much I know. If the Pirates 2012 season were a human body, Burnett would be the spine. Even if you excuse his outstanding performance on the mound (you shouldn’t anyways), what he’s given to the clubhouse is the knowledge of a veteran guy who has been around the block. He’s helped James McDonald reach his full potential. He keeps the guys loose. Along with Rod Barajas, he’s helped the entire team gel with one another. After Andrew McCutchen of course, Burnett should be the MVP of this team.

Above all else, Bucco fans, enjoy this. Wherever this team goes in August, September and (potentially) October; never forget where you came from. The heartbreak of the past 20 years is gone, even if it’s only temporary. Love this team as it is, right here and right now.

Even if they like crappy movies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


"And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I'll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out"
-The Avett Brothers

There's a ticket stub that sits on my nightstand. It's been there for almost a month now (Yeah, I should clean, don't judge me). It says December 5, 2011- Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins. It was an ordinary loss, an ordinary December night. Normally, those ticket stubs eventually find their spot amongst candy wrappers and apple cores in whatever landfill Waste Management deems fit.

But I just can't throw this one away. I wish I could. But I always end up asking myself, "Did I see Sidney Crosby's last game?"

For the last 367 calendar days, words like "indefinitely", "symptoms", "no timetable"; have become as routine to Penguin fans as tying their shoes. They've almost lost all meaning. Penguins fans are suffering from a rare phenomenon: being expectation-less. I'm not talking about "Dick Tarnstrom is our leading scorer," expectation-less. It's more like the feeling that things will never be the same again. As if years like 2008-09 were just a fever dream. Living without expectation isn't saying that things can't get any worse, it's not seeing how they can possibly get any better.

And that's where we are today. The talk that ensued a month and a half ago about Crosby coming back and winning the scoring title feels distant and frankly, foolish. With all due respect to the current roster, Evgeni Malkin in particular, watching Pens games has become an exercise in "concussion-like symptoms" for Pens fans. Cheer as we may, there's a very numbing quality to watching these contests, as if our own vision is blurred, our memories fogged. When I think back to recent games, I often have trouble even remembering things that happened, as if they had existed only in the abstract.

In such uncertain situations, it remains very difficult to garner any sort of perspective. In six months, we could look back at this time and think how crazy we were for thinking it was even in the realm of possibility for Sidney Crosby not to suit up again. Or we could (frightfully) look back and wonder how we could have ever been so optimistic. The only thing I know is that (and I hope I speak for all Pens fans when I say this) I'd rather see Sidney Crosby retire at 24 than not be able to recognize his family at 40. The former would be heartbreaking, but the latter would be tragic.

The lack of updates are unsettling, yet familiar. The news that leaks out is vague at best. We don't know where Sid is, or really how he is, only that his symptoms aren't as "aggressive" as a year ago. Though we've seen this song and dance before (Remember when they called it a "mild" concussion last year?), so we've learned to take words like this with a grain of salt. Any good news that we'll hear in the future about Sid will be met with a nervous optimism, not an unbridled one.

But at this point, most of us will take whatever we can get.

So how will this all end?

Our hope is that one day Crosby will awake to find his own personal clouds lifted. That he can do what he loves the same way he used to, and we can understand again what a privilege it is to watch him do it. My own hope is that I can wake up and finally have that ticket stub meet the same fate as the others, casting away with it my own personal fears and doubts. But that hope, like all else at this time, remains indefinite.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who the hell are the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers?

Crushing defeat at the hands of Baltimore.
Defense pitches a shutout against Seattle.
Indy almost pulls off the upset.
Houston demolishes the Steeler Run D.
Everyone does their part dismantling the Titans.

If there's ever been a more schizophrenic 5 games in the last decade, I don't remember them. One week, they're written off, and the next, they're Super Bowl Contenders. Here are just a few things that I think are set in stone about this year.


1. The offensive line.

They are aptly named, as their play offends anybody who watches it. Ben Roethlisberger is apparently being punished by the cosmos for his sexcapades by getting plowed for three hours on national TV every Sunday. The running game has disappeared like Rashard Mendenhall's Twitter account. They're so bad that fans welcomed back Max Starks with fervent enthusiasm. Dear Lord.

2. The run defense.

Finally, after all these years, age is catching up to these guys. Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Casey Hampton...oh how we've loved you. We really have. Three of the most important Steelers of the 2000s. Just thinking about you makes me smile.

But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And that includes your careers. Let's see what Worilds, Hood and Heyward can do.

3. The running game.

When Jonathan Dwyer posts up the best rushing performance of the year (by 40 yards, no less). You have problems. Big ones.


1. The pass defense.

Just saying this gives me a headache. One of the best pass defenses in the league? Really? I'm not sure when Ike Taylor turned into Darrelle Revis, but nobody has thrown on Ike all year. The tandem of William Gay and Keenan Lewis have surprised everybody. You know what you get with Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. Seeing the run defense be as bad as it is compared to the pass makes me feel as if I'm living in some parallel universe. And then I realize that I'm still a hairy ginger, so that thought gets thwarted pretty fast.

2. The wide receivers.

Top to bottom, this may end up being the best receiving corps in Steelers history. VERY rarely do you hit on two receivers in the same draft, but Kevin Colbert appears to have done it with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Throw in budding star Mike Wallace and everyone's favorite reality dance champion, and you've got unlimited weapons for Ben Roethlisberger. Considering that Wallace, Sanders and Hines Ward were all third round picks, and Antonio Brown was a sixth rounder, it's a remarkable testament to the due diligence of the Steelers front office.

3. Dan Sepulveda.

Shut up. I love the guy.

Given the ease of the schedule (I think at some point the Steelers play North Allegheny), I do think the Steelers are a playoff team.

But ask me again next week.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

He Called Him Safe?

It was 1:50 AM on July 27th, 2011.

Just in case you wanted to document the worst call in baseball history.

With all due respect to the Jim Joyce/Armando Galarraga perfect game debacle, when it comes to the ease of the call, umpire Jerry Meals rendition of what really happened between Mike McKenry and Julio Lugo borders on the hallucinogenic.

Before I post a link to a YouTube video that Major League Baseball will take down in the next thirty seconds, let me set the scene for those who drifted off to peaceful slumber.

Bottom of the 19th. Braves runners on second and third. One out. Relief pitcher Scott Proctor takes the plate for only the second time since 2007. Immediately goes down 0-2 to Pirates workhorse reliever Daniel McCutchen. McCutchen delivers, Proctor grounds to a charging Pedro Alvarez at third base. 850 year old Atlanta Brave Julio Lugo makes a beeline for home plate. Alvarez comes with a strong and accurate throw. McKenry receives it and swipes at Julio Lugo. Then all hell breaks loose.

Now okay, there's a lot going on in this 1 minute, 48 second video:

1. Most importantly, you can see the angles of the tag. The definitive one is at about 1:30 of the video. You can see McKenry making the swipe, and Julio Lugo's pantleg reverberating from the contact of McKenry's mitt. If ANYONE felt as if Lugo actually was safe, that angle puts the axe to that idea.

2. Clint Hurdle turned a color that I didn't know a human being could. It was almost a blackish purple hue. Even in my stunned disbelief at what I had just seen, I was readying myself to call an ambulance for him.

3. How bad do you feel for Mike McKenry? To catch 19 innings and over 300 pitches to have it end like that? Ouch.

4. If Lyle Overbay doesn't hold back Daniel McCutchen, he probably eats Jerry Meals.

5. This isn't in the video, but I had seen it last night (and had it confirmed through a billion tweets), that Neil Walker was actually signing autographs for fans immediately after the game. That's insane. Neil Walker, you are without a doubt a better person than I am. I would have been punching holes in anything I could. What a class act.

6. Scott Proctor does the world's most inexplicable belly flop, absolutely ensuring that if Meals calls out Lugo, McKenry can lob the ball to Overbay at first to complete the double play and get out of the inning.

We should have a bit of perspective here. Yes, the Pirates lost. If Meals ends up making the right call, maybe the Pirates win, maybe they don't. But the fact is that they deserved to find out. While the Pirates lost the game, the true losers were MLB fans as a whole. It was an instant classic. a six-and-a-half hour epic that featured game-saving plays and two of the best bullpen showings in baseball history. It didn't deserve to end that way. Fans should have either been treated to Joel Hanrahan closing out a Pirates win, or a dramatic walk-off hit by Atlanta. Not this. Major League Baseball owes the Pirates an apology, and the Pirates owe Major League Baseball a tongue-lashing.

Just as an additional note, shame on Jerry Meals for the way that he has reacted to his call. Within 30 minutes of Jim Joyce's awful call, he released a statement of contrition, saying that he had simply blown the call. His regretful demeanor and sheer humanness endeared him to fans, and to Armando Galarraga himself. While he still has a chance to do something similar, Jerry Meals is showing no signs of it.

Given the surroundings and circumstance, we will likely look back on this as a turning point in the Pirates season. The Buccos will either harness the "Us vs. Them" mentality and use it to their advantage, or crumble under the weight of fatigue and difficulty of schedule. Only time will tell.

And in just over 8 hours, the Buccos will continue the fight.

If the Pirates weren't "America's Team" at 1:49 AM this morning, they sure are now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Captain Obvious? Western Conference Shit

I've been hearing about this league called the "Western Conference". Apparently they play hockey just like the East, except three hours later. Not sure who could stay up for that.

Central Division:

Detroit Red Wings:

Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom
Player who should be Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom forever.

If you're wondering who Nick Lidstrom is, get off my blog. The dude is a Captain among Captains. Would he have steered the Titanic into an iceberg? No. He'd have broken the iceberg with a wrist shot.

Nashville Predators:

Captain: Shea Weber
Player who should be Captain: Shea Weber

Don't care if it wasn't for Nashville, if you shoot the puck through the net, you own the ice. Period.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Captain: Jonathan Toews
Player who should be Captain: Patrick Sharp

I'm a sucker for players like Patrick Sharp. He's not as talented as Toews (though he's no slouch, as his 34 goals last year will attest), but he's far more mature and has a great presence on the ice. He can play the tough minutes and is willing to mix it up with anybody. Sharp is a free agent after this season, and if the Blackhawks let him go, then they're idiots.

(Aside: I bet there are at least 45 "Sharp-Dressed Man" jokes in that article.)

St. Louis Blues:

Captain: None.
Player who should be Captain: David Backes

Backes is a true pain-in-the-ass. Which is pretty much a necessity if you're going to be a decent captain. For a forward, he's a fairly menacing force at 6-3, 230 lbs. The kind of guy who stands in front of the net, pistol-whips the goalie and puts the puck home. With a youthful pool of talent growing around him, Backes is the logical choice to lead the Blues in this tough division.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Captain: Rick Nash
Player who should be Captain: Dear God, somebody get Rick Nash out of Columbus

Seriously, the dude is wasted there. They don't have anyone around him, aside from Plum native R.J. Umberger, pictured below:

Only 5 percent of my readers will get that joke. Oooh, RJ!

I'm being real though. Somebody needs to go to Columbus and save Rick Nash.