It was a long and dark 20 year drought. Beginning in 1993, prospects and marginal veterans paraded through Pittsburgh like Southern Belles at a debutante ball. Each player supposedly better than the last. Each player was touted as the answer to the worst winning drought in major professional sports history. A few flowers grew among the weeds at PNC Park, but those players were simply auditioning for a trade to a better team, one with a willingness to pay something akin to fair-market value.
The cycle persisted. Prospects came in and prospects went out. It was a string of mythical 5-year plans to end the painful drudgery which occupied PNC Park.
Eventually, even free agents in desperate need of work literally hung up the phone when the Pirates called. Being unemployed was better than being Pirate. Those were the Pittsburgh Pirates. Do not let three years of winning erase those memories.
Do not forget Derek Bell, Jeremy Burnitz, Matt Morris, and a dozen more players who simply collected a paycheck.
A New Era:
Finally, a player broke the cycle: Andrew McCutchen. From humble roots, McCutchen climbed to the major leagues in 2009. 17 years after Sid Bream was called safe at home ahead of Barry Bonds throw from a far-too-deep left field, there was hope.
Finally, there was hope!
After a pair of All-Star Game appearances and a skyrocketing reputation, Andrew McCutchen was the first player to put the team ahead of his wallet. Many players before him said they wanted to help the Pirates break the losing streak. Players said many things.
McCutchen followed through. He accepted a below market long-term deal. Six years, $51.5 million dollars. If McCuthen didn’t sign that deal, he could have easily doubled that amount only a couple years later. McCuthen took less money to afford the Pirates a chance to allocate additional funds to a better product. Call him naive, stupid, or call him the man who saved the Pirates.
Without McCutchen’s leadership, there would have been no AJ Burnett. No Clint Hurdle. Recall that Hurdle was being heavily courted by the Mets. Hurdle turned the tables and interviewed the Pirates about their will to win. Andrew McCutchen was undoubtedly the first sales pitch.
Without Andrew McCutchen, there would have been no winning season. Left fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco followed McCutchen’s lead and also signed team-friendly long-term deals.
A team friendly deal was a bridge hometown hero Neil Walker wouldn’t cross. That is not an insult to Walker, it is praise for McCutchen.
Five consecutive All-Star Game appearances. An NL MVP. A Golden Glove. A top-5 WAR player three times. And, most importantly, McCutchen was the 2015 Roberto Clemente Award winner given for superior community service and charitable work.
Are you booing that guy?Staunch trolls and defenders of the booing will point to McCutchen’s generally poor season, a batting average hovering at .240 and a few misplayed balls in center field. In a singular sample size, McCutchen could be the object of frustration with the Pirates season.
You bought a ticket. You’re allowed to boo. You’re also allowed to sing Lady Gaga songs at the top of your lungs and whooo.
On paper, the Pirates were to win 87 games this season, a mark they are on pace to achieve. However, for the first time in three years, the Pirates won’t overachieve.
At some point, give credit for putting both hands on deck to save the Pirates. Give credit for seven great seasons and playing through knee and thumb injuries, before suffering a down year. Give credit for immense charity work which earned him the Roberto Clemente award.
What does McCutchen owe you? In an age for domestic abuse, performance-enhancing drugs, sexual assault, and animosity between players and fan, McCutchen is certainly not worthy of booing.
Out of curiosity, I asked Padres starting pitcher, Edwin Jackson if he saw anything different in McCutchen. He smiled and said, “It’s baseball, man. It’s baseball. He’s a great player, no doubt about that,” Jackson said. “It’s just a time when the game is not going in his favor.” (Quote courtesy of Metro News)
McCutchen is worthy of some gratitude and a mulligan. The greatest players suffer a down year, or three. Should McCutchen stop trying, stop caring, and become confrontational with the friendly paying public, then “Cutch” will earn derision. Right now, the boo birds should be reminded of the past and who brought them back to the park.
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