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A lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan trying to make sense of his favorite team. Pittsburgh Pirates and general baseball discussion with Jeff Tripodi.

Updated: 2015-09-16T14:53:01.932-04:00


[Open for discussion]


This offseason, the Bucs made some ugly free agent acquisitions. Burnitz is one step away from Gianthood (and a second step from the baseball graveyard). Randa furtively moved Sanchez to the utility role that management preferred, despite his inability to outproduce the incumbent. Roberto Hernandez wasn't a bad signing, but there were better places to assign that money; Victor Santos got the fifth starter spot due solely to buttercream veteran frosting.

So here's the question: Who was the Pirates' last impact free-agent signing?

Below are the key signings of the PNC era. Torres was a good gamble at the time; still, unless you count Reggie Sanders as a key free agent, you won't find the answer here.

Jeromy Burnitz
Roberto Hernandez
Joe Randa

Rick White

Jose Mesa
Randall Simon
Chris Stynes

Jeff D'Amico
Nelson Figueroa
Kenny Lofton
Jeff Reboulet*
Reggie Sanders
Matt Stairs
Julian Tavarez

*Reboulet actually played more games at 2B than any other Pirate in 2003

Pokey Reese
Salomon Torres
Ron Villone^
Mike Williams (return engagement)

^Your opening day starter in '02



I'm off for a while. I had the equivalent of 22 undergraduate college credits this semester, I start grad school on June 26, and my wife and I just had a beautiful, healthy baby daughter on Easter Sunday.

I will be back with regularity later this summer. Until then, enjoy Operation Lockdown. Too bad it didn't happen five years ago, as then maybe the Bucs could have voided his contract.

PS: How long till the Pirates realize that Chris Duffy is carrying the good-CF-for two-months torch, lit by Turner Ward in 1997, and carried by Adrian Brown, Brant Brown, and Tike Redman? I say June 11. Discuss.




[True or False?: The Bay signing]


The Pirates' signing of Jason Bay (four years, $18.25M) was the best possible use of this off-season's newly available funding.





(thanks to D.R.)

[Good news!]



What's the over-under on how many times Lloyd refers to himself as a "young man" in the press conference? I say four, and the good money's on the over.

[Nights like tonight]


Tonight, the Bucs (41-55) lost to the Rockies (33-61) in a dog day evening affair. But for a few minutes, I remembered what it's like to hold your breath when the pitcher goes into his motion.

As early as the first inning, you can feel the electricity, knowing it's a near sellout. It's a fireworks crowd, sure -- too interested in the pierogi race, oohing at fly outs and aahing at foul balls. But the humidity's not as bad tonight, and the atrocious Astros series has mercifully concluded.

This big kid from the Ft. Lauderdale suburbs is pushing 300 pounds, and may have shoulders broad enough to carry the burden of hope for millions of long-suffering fans. Two months ago, he was in Blair County. Tonight he's batting clean-up in the bigs with a clean slate, the most hopeful .000 career average you've seen in years.

You catch yourself reacting like a teenager when he rifles a single to center in his first big league at-bat.

And then, a funny thing happens -- a good old-fashioned baseball game develops. The Rockies get a solo homer from Holliday for the early lead, and tack on two more in the sixth; the Bucs stop the bleeding and strike back for two in bottom of the frame.

The ninth comes, and you can see it unfolding. Wilson and Castillo turn a 6-4-3 single play, possibly the greatest defensive play you've ever seen in the flesh. The momentum is deafening, 35,000 strong. It feels that much sweeter after the recent drought, like that first beer after working in the yard all day -- you could drink a dozen more, but none will be as cold or as delicious as the one that rinsed away your thirst.

There's one out in the ninth, and the Pirates have tied it. Bases loaded. The kid's up.

You write on your scorecard "perfectly scripted?" There's a hitch in your breath, and your face is flushed, like it hasn't been since high school. Suddenly, it's the beginning of something.

And the kid strikes out on three pitches. The momentum's gone.

The Rockies score two off of Mesa in the tenth on a Helton bomb, and McClendon gives the game away in the bottom of the tenth with an execrable bunt call.

(Note to self: Buy 100 copies of
Weaver on Strategy. Mail one to my father, and then one daily to McClendon for 99 days)

But seriously, it was a hell of a ride, despite the pair of go-nowhere teams fighting for the 15th-best record in the National League.

Nights like tonight make me remember what it means to be a Pirates fan.

Thank you, Brad Eldred.



It is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of a pitching coach. Some combination of reputation and results keeps certain pitching coaches on the big league payroll for decades.

Spin Williams has been McClendon's pitching coach since 2001, a span in which the Bucs' staff has been a mixed bag at best.

Last night, Spin visited the mound three times:

1. Top 4, bases loaded, Humberto Quintero at bat. Result: three-run double
2. Top 6, no outs, runner on first, Chris Burke at bat. Result: bunt base hit
3. Top 9, two outs, bases loaded, Lance Berkman at bat. Result: two-run single

Spin's line: 3-for-3, five RBI.

Maybe there is a way to evaluate a pitching coach.



I was talking APBA with some friends last week, and I learned that my buddy John is replaying the 1975 season; I spent the whole summer between high school and college doing the same. Jerry Reuss was 23-2 in my replay, but the Bucs couldn't get past the Reds in the LCS.

I mentioned that Tony Solaita's 1975 card -- the apogee of the take-and-rake Samoan's too-short career -- was one of my favorites of all time, up there with Fats Fothergill's 1928 and Kal Daniels' in 1987.

Anyway, I was up late and poking around online, and I found this retrospective of Solaita's life both in and out of baseball. I had no idea that he was even in the Pirates' system. It's definitely worth a read.

[Pirates history]


It was the highpoint in the baseball career of one of the finer pitchers of his time, and arguably, one of the greatest achievements in the history of sports.
That's from the first search result when you Google a certain former Bucco.

[Phelps DFA again]


Josh Phelps is again a baseball nomad. I still think he'd look good in black and gold.

is hilarious.

[McCutchen it is]


The Bucs drafted Andrew McCutchen 11th overall, surprising no one. McCutchen's a toolsy high school outfielder from Florida, 5'11"/175. Lance Broadway would have been nice (think a right-handed Barry Zito), but there were many worse picks than McCutchen.

Here's a nice feature on McCutchen from Baseball America.

A bad sign? Ed Creech's quote. "He's an athlete." You know, if you're bottoming out in a player-development sense, is this the way to go?

I remember my first APBA draft in 1990. I was very, very excited to take two toolsy high school OFs with my first two minor league picks -- a pair of guys who were simply too talented to possibly fail.

Two years later, I cut both Earl Cunningham (#8 overall, Cubs, 1989) and Paul Coleman (#6, Cards, '89).

Let's look at this in a positive light. It's not a decision based on finance, but is instead based on talent. It's not another college starter with Trachselian upside. It's not a groin-kick bridesmaid pick like Alex Gordon or Mark Merchant.

And they're not turning him into a starting pitcher.

[2005 Topps]


In the 2005 Topps set, the Pirates have two Topps All-Star Rookies (Gonzalez and Bay) for the first time ever.

But here's the true highlight:


[Back in action]


I'm back. Sorry about that unexpected hiatus.

Here's the body of an e-mail I got a few hours ago from a good friend and fellow Pirates fan/lamenter:
[The Wigginton demotion] has Lloyd's fingerprints all over it. I am not a Wigginton fan, but this organization has no friggin' clue. Wigginton should have been played all over the infield to show his versatility in order to be shopped at the deadline. Now (like D'Angelo Jimenez) he has no trade value.

One more thought... just how much value does Sanchez have at 3B? Jack Wilson wasn't hitting as well as Wigginton, and has less of a track record. Yet, he continues to chew up outs like a rat through cork. I know Sanchez had a couple of token appearances there, but a more extended audition would have been very helpful. Who knows? Maybe he could field well enough to get another bat in the lineup.

I'm glad the Pirates have played better lately, but they really need to hit bottom again so Lloyd and Dave both get fired, and the pressure builds for McClatchy to step aside. Instead, they'll lose between 85-95 again, and the streak continues with no end in sight.

Just one man's opinion. :)
I couldn't have said it better myself, except for the "and Dave" part. I still have a good deal of faith in the Pirates' GM. These next two months will be quite telling.

Much, much more to come.

PS: Here's a sweet picture of Jose Castillo from tonight's action.

[Macko tidbit]


It's a shame that Brian O'Neill's columns are labeled so pejoratively. You have to wonder how many people skip it because of the word "geek" (or even the word "stats").

I always wish I'd dug up the things he finds. For example:
Mackowiak is not your classic top-of-the-order guy. He strikes out a lot. He walks less than the league average. But he is fast. He has stolen 30 bases in 38 attempts since 2002 and he may have grounded into fewer double plays per at-bat than anyone in the history of baseball.
Fascinating stuff. And to think all I've come up with lately is that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio is the brother of Quiz Show and Donnie Brasco scribe Paul Attanasio.



For those who are interested, this was McClendon's lineup card for the game that was rained out earlier this evening:

RF Lawton
2B Sanchez
LF Bay
1B C Wilson
CF Mackowiak
3B Wigginton
C Ross
SS J Wilson
P Wells

[We have a nickname]


Thanks to Gene Collier, the 2005 Pirates have a nickname, as apt as 1979's "We Are Family" and 1997's Freak Show.

Your 2005 Pittsburgh Pirates: The Slumber Company.

[Lloyd Libs]


Thanks to today's coverage, we can play Mad Libs with McClendon for the first time this season:

Adjective: burly
Adjective: ticklish
Adverb: graciously
Noun: mouthwash
Adjective: orange

"The meeting was about perception and reality," McClendon said. "Every talk show in town is going to be saying I should be fired. They are going to be saying our players are [adjective], I'm a [adjective] manager and our team is playing [adverb].

"That's the perception, but the reality is that we're only 13 games into the season. We need to keep playing hard and not worry about all that other [noun] coming from people outside this clubhouse.

"We'll win five or six in a row and all those people who are saying we are [adjective] will be saying it's a miracle."

Try it. It's fun!

[On productive outs]


[T]he Pirates have guys who make outs too much. When the best argument for a hitter begins with how much better his outs are, either find another hitter or another argument.

The worst team for productive outs was Boston, which scored the most runs in baseball.
Excellent column in today's P-G by Brian O'Neill. It's great to see this type of analysis in a major newspaper; the revolution may not (yet) be televised, but it's being read at Denny's.

It's a start.

[Renovated as a QB?]


Murmurs from Morgantown have J.R. House taking snaps instead of BP. A once-touted Pirates farmhand returning to the college ranks is not without precedent.

[Browsing the headlines]


When I saw this article's headline, I thought Chuck Berry might be planning a tour. Retrospect is a strange filter; it's easy to forget that Rocker had an effective season after the SI interview. His walk rate spiked, going from bad to worse, but the wheels didn't come off until the 2001 season. By that time, over a year had passed since the article was published.

Mike Hargrove logged his 1,000th win this week. When he took the wheel from John McNamara midway through the 1991 season, the freshman skipper inherited a bad, young team. It would be years before the Indians would become the model for new-market rebuilding, and Hargrove traveled a rough road before the team clicked in 1994. Hargrove is the 51st manager to win 1,000 games, and it happened in roughly 13 1/2 seasons. For perspective, if McClendon continues at his current pace, he'll win his 1,000th game in May 2015.

Guy Junker is lamenting the Pirates' loss of Joe Randa. When Randa went unprotected in the 1997 expansion draft, it was so long ago that none of us had yet heard of Monica Lewinsky. Randa was the 57th player taken in the expansion draft, immediately following Bryan Karp, Mike Bell, and Santos Hernandez. This is about as relevant as ripping the Bucs for trading Don Hoak, since Ted Savage stunk up the joint in 1963, and Bob Bailey wasn't really ready to take over third base until 1964.

[bucsblog: 4.8.2005]


9:47 PMDeep within the recesses of letsgobucs HQ, within sniffing distance of scenic Neville Island, it's the first ever live bucsblog for yours truly.My job: Watch the game; provide trenchant and/or asinine commentary; keep everybody company while we watch the Bucs try to put one in the W column.Your job: Forgive any typos; comment as you please; refresh frequently.I have a handful of aluminum Irons on ice, a sausage pie en route from Mama Lena's, and an endless supply of useless information at my fingertips.Let's give this a try.10:07 PMTike's batting third again. You have to wonder if this truly is an experiment, and what it's going to take to get Lloyd to end it. Redman went 0-5 last night.This is a man who is lucky to be drawing a MLB paycheck, and he's batting third.10:09 PMJohn Wehner's making his TV debut. Not bad so far; he's in the Bob Walk mold -- insightful but genuine, unpolished.10:13 PMThat's about as hard as Tike Redman's going to hit a soft-tosser like Lawrence. He pasted it to right; Giles turned improperly and still ran it down with little trouble.Redman's the worst #3 hitter for this team since Leyland strictly adhered to lineup slotting, and subbed in Cecil Espy for Van Slyke in the 3 hole.10:18 PMThough it's early, it's good to see that Brian Giles is off to a good start.Players like him seldom age gracefully, and the end tends to come at once, not gradually.To wit:Exhibit AExhibit BExhibit CGiles will always be one of my favorite players, a bright spot on a lot of bad Pirates teams.10:24 PMIf the Pirates' FSN broadcast team ever do musical theater, I'd bet a stack of high society that Dan Potash would get the lead. Jazz hands when recounting an interview? That's a performer.10:28 PMThat 'stache on Craig Wilson is fantastic. I didn't think the Thor coif could be outdone, but he looks like an extra in Boogie Nights. Not that there's a lot of competition, but that's the best Bucco mustache since Tommy Sandt's.10:30 PMWehner's got the chops. I keep forgetting that he's a franchise guy, having worked in various capacities throughout the chain. He knows personnel up and down, which brings rare insight to the booth. I'd imagine that as the team breaks in the farmhands this season, Wehner will have a lot to say. That he already does is a true testament.10:40 PMYears ago, my wife and I were merely dating. I'd flown out to San Francisco, where she was living, and we took a road trip down the coast. We stayed in a hotel literally across the street from Disneyland when I realized that the Bucs were playing in San Diego the next night.I told her I couldn't miss the opportunity to see the Pirates play on the road. She said to forget about Disneyland and we headed to San Diego. How's that for knowing you've got a keeper?Now, every time the Bucs are out west, I think about this game.10:44 PMTwo on, scoreless in the third, one out, and your #3 hitter's coming up. Great news, unless you're batting Tike Redman third.This is inexplicable. Why put an outmaking machine in the heart of your order?10:45 PMRedman walks. McClendon gets a pass, for now.10:46 PMNot deep enough. Two outs.10:47 PMLanny's got his one career grand slam on his note cards, evidently.How about some Mustache Magic for Craig Wilson?10:48 PMAll hail the Mustache Magic! Maybe it's time to take a banner to PNC.That's the Pirates' first lead since the one taken in the bottom of the first on opening day. That one lasted about nine minutes.10:53 PMI've said it many times to my friends,[...]

[Home opener]


I will now empty my pockets of Bucco tidbits accumulated during today's opener.

The season started with the appropriate Black Eyed Peas song. Oliver Perez looked good early, missing bats and getting that inimitable hammer over. He was his usual electric, inefficient self, showing no ill effects of his late start; his stats belied a decent appearance. He's presently clean-shaven, leaving infinite Wooly Willy permutations to one's imagination.

Rick White's wearing #88. There was a moment, down 8-2 in the sixth, White on the hill, when I thought it might be 1995. I was almost looking for Steve Pegues in the on-deck circle.

Shown on the scoreboard each time through the order:
  1. Pirates players painting a 3' by 5' canvas to their respective likings. These paintings will be auctioned for the benefit of Dapper Dan Charities during the first few months of the 2005 season. My favorite was Jose Castillo's.
  2. Overly simplistic -- and often lame -- rebus puzzles of the player's name. If this lasts the season, they'd better start sprinkling in some variety. Makes me long for last year's Warholian pastiches.
  3. Split-screen: Pittsburgh at night, and a headshot of the batter.
  4. A Pirated-up caricature. It's an actual photo, decorated with eyepatch, bandanna, etc.
Irrelevant but potentially interesting:
  • Sauerkraut Saul won. Jim Krenn was the guest announcer; no word if that's a new wrinkle to the 'rogi race.
  • Sure as the sun rises tomorrow, Jeff Cirillo will wend his way to countless roto teams, only to be dumped by month's end.
  • It was the 9th-largest crowd in PNC history, and the largest for an opener.
  • "Crazy Train" was the crowd's song of choice. That may have some staying power, at least until Skynyrd or a skiing squirrel shows up.

[Season's greetings]


Sorry I've been MIA for a month or so; I'm back in school full-time and it's kind of kicking my butt.

Anyway, happy baseball new year to all. I may be intermittent with the updates for the rest of the month, but I'll be posting more than most will care to read this summer.

I'm in the eagle's nest that is the PNC Park press box, and there's not a place in the world I'd rather be.

A few quick hits before we get underway:

  • It's true: Tike Redman's batting third today. Craig Wilson's 0-13 against Sheets in his career, while Redman 's 5-for-20.
  • Oliver Perez makes his first opening day start today, hopefully one of many in the black and gold. The last Pirate to start consecutive openers was Francisco Cordova, 1998-1999.
  • The former tenenbaum plaza below the batter's eye is now an intricately carved hedge sporting the Pirates logo. Amazing craftsmanship on that number.
  • This is the only Bucco opener since I've been of drinking age that didn't have Kendall catching.

I'll give a full round-up of what's new at the ballpark this evening, and may post a few tidbits during the game. Let's go Bucs!

[Bullington's apologists]


"I throw four pitches and try to throw them all for strikes," he said. "I've got just a few minor things I'm trying to iron out but, for the most part, I'm pretty comfortable with where I'm at."I read that quote and was sure it came from Ryan Vogelsong, who many profile as a starter who "just needs to put it together" to be a mid-rotation regular. Vogelsong hits a little, won't embarrass you on the bases, can put down a bunt with regularity, and fields his position very well. He also has a four-pitch repertoire ideal for a starter.No, it was Bryan Bullington who spoke those words.Bullington, as I lamented recently, was the number one choice in the 2002 amateur draft. McClatchy decided that the Bucs should go the safe route and select a polished college pitcher who would help the team in short order, not gamble on the high school shortstop who was crowned Jeter Redux before he could vote. Rumor was that the shortstop wanted too much money to sign, as he was heavily recruited by Florida State.The Pirates picked Bullington; I felt the mistake was so grave that I downloaded this photo into a folder labeled "ruefulnostalgia". The Pirates offered him a $4,000,000 signing bonus. Bullington sat out the entirety of 2002, then accepted the Pirates' initial offer in late October.B.J. Upton was the second pick of the 2002 draft. He signed for just $500,000 more than Bullington, then excelled at every level as the Rays promoted him aggressively through their farm system. He made his MLB debut this year at age 19.Upton is on the cusp of stardom. He may open the 2005 season at AAA to work on his defense, but he'll be back in the bigs before the end of the season. He'll start hitting this year, and probably won't stop till 2023 or so. This is the type of star to which you hitch your franchise's wagon.Bryan Bullington is not.I say this not out of bitterness or spite, but as context for a pair of recent articles profiling the Pirates righthander. The Post-Gazette ran a story on Monday with the aforementioned quote, and Ed Eagle posted an article on late last week.Bullington's is a story that writes itself, so there's no surprise that he's in the news. As Upton's star ascends, Bullington has stagnated. He's somewhere between Altoona and Pittsburgh, a distance far shorter by car than by metaphor. He's a de facto underdog, a magnet for sports writers hungry for daily leads.Ask anyone in the Pirates system, and their pre-programmed answers say what you'd expect. They claim to be satisfied with Bullington's progress. From the P-G:"The velocity comes and goes, but he's going to settle in at 89-93. He's got enough fastball," Littlefield said. "As with a lot of young pitchers, it's more about command and being able to throw more than one pitch for strikes. He's gotten better at that, and he's going to have to get even better." Fair enough. He does indeed have to get better; he's developmentally behind at least five other untested Pirates starters -- two of whom will miss the majority of the 2005 season. But it's good to hear Littlefield address Bullington's progress frankly.I have spoken to the Pirates GM several times. I am continually impressed by his insight, his passion, and his candor. But every time I grow overly enamored, a quote like this makes my jaw hit the table:"At this point, I don't think we're ready to acknowledge who was the better pick," Littlefield said. "Bullington has progre[...]