Pirates' black-ink parade fueled by local apathy

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I grew up an ardent and zealous Pirates fan, listening with my grandfather to Bob Prince on the radio and staying up late to watch road games in San Francisco, confused why anyone living in California would be wearing a jacket when it was 80 degrees at midnight in West Virginia.  In October 1992, when former Pirates first baseman Sid Bream and his body by Lego somehow tried to score from second on a routine single and Barry Bonds somehow couldn’t manage to throw him out, I knew that the exodus of Bonds and Bobby Bonilla would plunge the Pirates into mediocrity for an extended period of time.

I never dreamed it would last 18 years.

But it has, and it could last for another 18 years.  And 18 years beyond that.  In an industry where being truly competitive on the field typically requires a very large financial investment and where failure in the standings nevertheless results in a high profit, the Pirates have no incentive to spend the money that it takes to win, especially since there’s no guarantee that spending the money actually will result in winning.

That’s why I’m not surprised at all by the news that the Pirates have done very well in the statistical category that matters most:  average bank deposits.

So will the news that the folks who own the Pirates are digging up plenty of treasure while one of the proudest brands in baseball continues to be synonymous with losing?  Maybe not.

With their thirst for sports relevance satiated by the always-competitive Steelers and Penguins, many Pittsburghers regard the local baseball team as providing an excuse to spend several hours at the open-air restaurant and bar known as PNC Park, with the game merely contributing to the ambiance. 

Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd.  Buy me a beer and a beer and a beer.  I don’t care if they never win here.  For it’s root-root-root for the home team, if they don’t win . . . well, that’s a shame.

But it’s not a shame.  The Pirates don’t need to win, especially since no one really expects them to.

So if the Pirates truly want to make good use of all that extra money they generate, they should give some of it to the two teams in town that actually have a chance to win a championship or two this decade.  Or century. 

Or millennium.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.