The Pirates string of losing seasons is over — now what?

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They still need one more win for their first winning season since 1992, but that’s inevitable. The Pirates did, however, put and end to their streak of losing seasons last night, notching their 81st win.

At this point it’s probably worth noting that when the Pirates completed their last winning season, “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown,” Cheers,” “Designing Women” and “Coach” were top TV shows, Boyz II Men, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Kriss Kross had the biggest hits in the nation and this 40 year-old man was still living in a college dorm. Some of you were not even born. It’s been a long time.

The question now: what constitutes the next step of success for the Pirates? Or, rather, what will render this breakthrough season a disappointment?

If they fail to win the division and only get the wild card, is that bad, or are Pirates fans happy? What if they lose the wild card game? More broadly speaking, was .500 always a goal for you, Pirates fans, and the rest gravy, or are you living in the moment and the moment alone, desiring a long playoff run and anticipating disappointment if that does not come to pass?

Kind of an abstract question, I guess. I’m thinking back to 1991 when the Braves broke through after close to a decade of stinking (and nothing but stinking in the time I had been watching and cheering for them). I recall feeling a lot of “happy to be here” feelings as the season wore down and the playoffs sank in as reality. But I also remember all of that happy to be here stuff disappearing as soon as the NLCS actually began and things got real. Of course I still sting over the World Series, which was one deke and baserunning gaffe away from a Braves success. If you can’t be unequivocally happy being that close to winning it all you aren’t treating your team’s surprise success any differently than fans of teams with a long rich recent history of the stuff.

I feel like most Pirates fans will feel the same way. Maybe some high fives and victory laps this week and into next, but then the serious business of winning the division and making a run in October will take precedence. Lack of success in this regard will thus be felt just as strongly by you as it will be by Cardinals or Red Sox fans who have had all kinds of success in recent years.

But tell me if I’m wrong.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.

 

 

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.