A hodgepodge on the Pirates in August

August has seen the Pittsburgh Pirates make the headlines in ways they’d rather not. Where to begin . . .

“A hodgepodge of nothingness”

Last Tuesday while the Pirates hosted the Boston Red Sox, Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Fame former pitcher and broadcaster for NESN, which broadcasts the Red Sox games, tore into the Pirates, calling the team “a hodgepodge of nothingness.”

“It’s ridiculous. It really is. Pathetic,” Eckersley continued. “You talk about a no-name lineup. There’s no team like this. Love to see some of the service time. You add it all up, it’s not much.”

Reactions from Pirates players ranged from finding his remarks insulting and inappropriate to not caring at all. Regardless of how one feels about it, it’s an understatement to say nobody is going to mistake the 2022 Pirates for the 1927 Yankees.

As a Pirates fan, I believe in the rebuilding process they’re going through. I’ve seen enough of their young players at their best and believe many of them will be better than they’re showing at present. I think the bigger story to be the slowed development of so many of the youngsters.


Oneil Cruz has wowed the fans with his tape-measure homers and high velocity on his batted balls and throws. But as I write this, he’s sitting at .198/.242/.390, 9 HR and 29 RBIs. Most disturbing are his 73 strikeouts in just 194 plate appearances. He seems a sure bet to chase breaking pitches out of the strike zone once there are two strikes on him.

Jack Suwinski never had a high batting average while with the Pirates, but at one point he led all rookies in home runs. Then an 0-for-29 stretch caused his banishment to triple-A Indianapolis. Diego Castillo finished April hitting .259, dropped to .233 at the end of May and continued to decline until July 30, when he sat at .201 and was also dispatched to triple-A. Bligh Madris, called up on June 20, was hitting .310/.326/.500 on July 1 and saw his numbers steadily drop. After a stint in the minors and a recent call-up, he’s now at .180/.234/.260 after Friday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, during which he got two hits and broke a 2-for-48 skid.

The point is the major league pitchers have apparently adjusted how they’re pitching the Pirates’ hitters and the hitters aren’t making adjustments. General Manager Ben Cherington recently stated manager Derek Shelton will be back in 2023. But after the team’s woeful offensive performance this year, heads have to roll. One has to wonder whether there will be changes to the coaching staff next year.

Revenge of the nothingness

On Thursday the “hodgepodge of nothingness” battered the Red Sox for 10 hits en route to an 8-2 victory. Bryan Reynolds hit two long homers for the Pirates, the latter of which was the 3,000th in PNC Park history. Coincidentally, it happened on what would have been the 88th birthday of the late, great Roberto Clemente, who had exactly 3,000 hits in his major league career.

Hanging on the telephone

Phones figure prominently in the final two topics for discussion. On August 9 in Arizona against the Diamondbacks, rookie infielder Rodolfo Castro, back from the minors after an incident of non-hustle that left Shelton displeased, drew a walk in the fourth inning. A single by Cruz sent Castro sliding head-first into third base. During the slide, his phone popped out of his back pocket and was quickly retrieved.

The Pirates’ TV broadcasters were in disbelief, saying it couldn’t be a phone; it was probably the card with Castro’s defensive positionings. But no, it was his phone. The official explanation was Castro forgot it was there and couldn’t feel it in his pocket; he keeps his sliding mitt there, even in the field. Major League Baseball investigated and found it wasn’t used improperly during the game. However, it issued a one-game suspension anyway, which Castro has appealed.

Every picture tells a story

Finally, on August 3, 18-year-old Pirates fan Colin Witte, watching the game from PNC Park’s Lexus Club, spotted owner Bob Nutting by the buffet table. He asked Nutting to pose for a photo with him. At the last second before the photo was taken, Witte peeled back his unbuttoned team jersey to reveal a black tee-shirt that read “sell the team” in gold capital letters. Despite being “punked,” Nutting was civil to the young man as they parted ways.

The photo was posted to Twitter. As of August 7, it had about 1.8 million views, more than 2,000 “retweets” and 8,000 “favorites.” Witte was universally applauded for the stunt and became an instant folk hero of sorts to Pirates fans.

Mark me down as one of the minority who was not a fan of this little gag. As a Pirates fan, sure, I’d like to see Nutting spend more on the payroll, too. I’m not so sure my feet are firmly planted in the “sell the team” corner because I think the next owner will move the team out of Pittsburgh. I’d rather just see this latest long-range plan work.

In any event, what I do believe in are manners and respect, even toward those with whom we disagree. Unfortunately, today it’s not about gaining any understanding of the other side’s position. It’s all about “owning” them instead. “Own” them and supposedly you win the debate, to the extent any type of reasoned “debate” was even taking place to start with.

Turn off the noise

We live in an age where everybody is divided on every issue. It’s not likely to change any time soon because too many are making too much money keeping it that way. We’re letting them by being willing participants. Social media and talk radio are designed to keep us in states of frenzy, anxiety, anger and envy. We keep coming back for more. The other side is wrong, because we can find so many loud voices that tell us so. We need to turn off the noise.

Pirates fans can often be irrational in discussing Nutting. I recall seeing a blog post that called him the most evil man in the history of Pittsburgh. This was maybe a couple weeks after the Tree of Life massacre. As if failing to spend money on a baseball team is somehow equivalent.

Know the fans

That said, Nutting is his own worst PR man. Bill Veeck owned some terrible teams with the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns. But he was a beloved owner because he spent time in the stands, getting to know the fans, often sitting shirtless among them, drinking beer. Nutting’s predecessor, Kevin McClatchy, presided over a dismal era of Pirates baseball, too. But McClatchy could also be seen at every game, sitting right behind home plate in a Pirates cap, cheering on the team and even yelling at umpires. If the fans were unhappy with his ownership, they at least had to understand he wanted to win, but came in as a relatively low-net-worth owner who didn’t know a lot about running a major league baseball team.

Nutting watches from a private box and rarely is seen in public in his capacity as Pirates owner, unless he’s taking a bow for one of the many good works of Pirates Charities or participating in some on-field ceremony. He needs to be among the fans, working to change the perception of him. Otherwise, fans will continue to impute a personality on him and perceive him as Scrooge McDuck, counting his gold coins and laughing at the fools who spend money to support his team.

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