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.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.