Posts Tagged ‘Willie Stargell’

Rebuilding With Youth — Or Not

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

You know your team is in trouble when the title articles on its official website talk about next year as if it’s already here. So it is with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are not only mired in last place in the N.L. Central (again) — but contending for honors as the worst team in baseball with the likes of the Birds and Mariners. Hence: “Craving experience, young Bucs welcome Nats,” is actually a stand-in wink and nod to Pirates fans that means “Come to the ballpark — because we actually might be able to beat these guys.” In truth, while Pirates’ pundits go on and on about how the two teams have a lot in common (“two teams that are trying to squeeze some positives out of a marathon season”), Nationals fans can take comfort in the fact that while the Anacostia Nine are bad, they’re not as bad as this year’s version of the Stargells — who are 44-89. 44-89? That puts the Pittsburgers several games back of the Ripkins for MLB last place honors.

It’s not as if Bucs fans don’t know it. Just yesterday, Raise the Jolly Roger (the most acerbic critic of the Pirates’ front office), actually celebrated the Pirates 5-3 loss to the Cubs by noting that “at least they looked like a team that knew what it was doing.” Rum Bunter (a whiz with photoshop), is (if anything), even more outraged; he painfully chronicles the fall of the 2010 Pirates by listing the five reasons they “suck” — and (surprise, surprise) four of the five have to do with pitching. Bucs Dugout, meanwhile, notes that while the Pirates have been terrible, they actually haven’t been terrible enough. Which is to say: being next-to-last in baseball means that they’ve missed out on the very best prospects (including Stephan Strasburg), while picking up talent that hasn’t panned out. So, if you want to look at it this way, being last in baseball this year might be just what the doctor ordered for a team with nowhere to go but up.

Doesn’t anyone have anything good to say about this team? Well . . . no. But there is some hope. Pittsburgh’s bloggers are abuzz with talk about Jose Tabata, a hot-hitting left fielder and former prospect in the Yankees organization, which signed him which he was just “16.” Tabata is hitting the cover off the ball, though it took him time to get started: he only arrived in the show in early June, and had trouble stringing together a good run. But now Tabata is the talk of Pittsburgh, and being mentioned in the same breath as other N.L. rookies: Florida’s Gaby Sanchez, Washington’s Ian Desmond, Atlanta’s Jason Heyward, and Chicago duo Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro. Of course (there’s always an “of course” when it comes to the Pirates), the celebration over the arrival of the young rookie (the “centerpiece” of a trade that sent Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Empire), could be premature.

The rap on Tabata, an apparent leftover from yakkers in the Yankees’ minor league system, is that while the young Venezuelan has oodles and oodles of talent, he was lazy and had a bad attitude. That would have killed any thought of him playing in the Nats organization (Mike Rizzo hates the word “lazy”) but it didn’t matter to rehab specialist and Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington — who ignored the warnings, believing they were overstated. It appears the gamble has worked out. Tabata is now a featured sparkplug in the middle of a play-em-young-or-bust Pittsburgh philosophy. Yet. Yet, at the end of July a correspondent for Bleacher Report cited rumors circulating in Pittsburgh that the young phenom might not actually be that young. That instead of being 22 (his birthday is August 12) he might actually be all of 25 . . . or 26. Or, as BR says: “This is actually very important news as far as the Pirates and Tabata’s future development are concerned.  If Tabata turns 22 on August 12th, he’s a hell of prospect, given his past minor performance, even if he isn’t much of a major league left-fielder today. On the other hand, if Tabata turns 25 on August 12th, he isn’t much of a prospect at all.”

A controversy? A scandal? Not for Pirates’ GM and resident player therapist Neal Huntington (insert snide comment about Nyjer Morgan here), who responded to the reports by issuing a non-clarification: Huntington said he has documentation showing that Tabata was born when he says he was born (take that!), but that even if the reports are true (ahem) it doesn’t matter. Or more pertinently: “Apart from unfounded speculation, there is nothing to indicate his age any different than reported,” Huntington said. “My point is that while we have reason to doubt his reported age, it is a non-issue to us.” Roughly translated: the only number we care about is the one in the column marked “BA.” Pirates fans would undoubtedly agree, as they have had little to cheer about this year, or last … or the year before that …

We can take a closer look tonight, when the Stargells begin a three game set against your Washington Nationals in Pittsburgh.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Letters and cards pored in from all over the globe, as our millions of worldwide readers were justly irritated that they couldn’t get on the site over the last 18 hours or so. Our board of directors (you remember our board of directors — right?) “instructed” (that is, demanded) that our crack technical team (and here they are) clean us up a tad bit, and so they did. It won’t happen again (of course it will, but never mind), but apologies nonetheless.

Roberto Clemente

Friday, September 4th, 2009

The Nats will host Roberto Clemente Night on Friday night when they face off against the Florida Marlins. As I recall, I saw Roberto Clemente play six or seven times, almost all of them in Milwaukee County Stadium. This must have been in 1964 and 1965 — at the peak of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I saw him two more times after that, in 1969 or 1970, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Clemente was only 25 when he played on that great 1960 world championship team that took the series in seven games from the Yankees — the one where Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off in the ninth inning of the sevnth game. Clemente was young, just 25, and hit .314 for the season.

Clemente won the MVP award in 1966 at the age of 31, his greatness established: he hit .317 with 29 home runs and he had 202 hits. He was a hitting machine — at the end of the 1972 season (just before he was killed), his hit total stood at exactly 3000. He had at least three more good years left in him in baseball, a lot more in life. The Clemente years were good years for the Pirates: they won a world championship in 1960 and 1971 and Clemente was surrounded by good players, some of them were very good: Matty Alou and Dick Groat and Don Hoak and Willie Stargell and Al Oliver and Bill Mazeroski and legendary pitchers Vern Law, Harvey Haddix and Bob Friend.

I remember Clemente playing right field, but I don’t have any specific memory of him hitting and I remember the way that he ran because it was so distinctive. He was scary quick, midwest quick. And you knew, when you saw him play, that he had a very special ability. I had heard he had a legendary arm and I saw it — once — though I don’t remember the exact details. Close enough thought: I remember the game. It was in Milwaukee County Stadium and it was a day game featuring the home team lame-duck-no-account 1965 headed-out-of-town (I’m still bitter about those) Milwaukee Braves against the mighty Pirates. The Braves were at bat with two outs, but there wasn’t anyone special at bat (like Aaron or Mathews); but some light hitting lug — and I didn’t much like many of them anyway. It was someone like Woody Woodward or Dennis Menke or someone like that. I would like to think it was Menke, one of my least favorite players. Dennis “boot ’em” Menke.  

Anyway, whoever it was came up and hit a scorcher down into the right field corner (a hell of a hit) and tore around first and the ball was hit on a line just inside the first base bag. The ball headed to the corner and it took one high bounce against the green wall. And Clemente went and got it and caught it on the bounce as it came off the wall and Menke (or whoever) headed to second and just kept going. A clear triple. And Clemente turned and rifled the ball over the head of the second baseman and into third where Pirate third sacker, young Bob Bailey was waiting.

I remember it well: the ball caught up with Menke about halfway between second and third and Menke looked at the ball as it passed him. I saw his head turn. Everyone saw his head turn. And Bailey just kind of spread his legs and leaned down and the ball took one bounce and Bailey applied the tag and flipped the ball to the ump. We were all on our feet with Braves fans (what there were of them) ready to cheer this fantastic triple and the air just came out of the stadium and everyone, just everyone, kind of looked at their shoes and shook their heads and went back to their popcorn. What was amazing about it really was that when Bailey applied the tag, Clemente was already halfway to the dugout — he was on the lip of the infield grass. And I remember thinking: well, I saw that.

Clemente two