Baseball continues to evolve into a mockery of what it once was with all these last-minute deals that sap the strength from small-market teams and add beef to the big boys.
Selfish Red Sox and Yankees fans can gloat and disagree all they want but there surely isn’t one of them willing to look at life through the eyes of Pittsburgh Pirates manager John Russell.
Russell, as some may know, was manager of the Rock Cats from 1998-2000. When you interview someone night-in and night-out for three seasons, you can’t help but grow close to them. I came to respect Russell as a human being aside from his stellar playing career as a fine catcher and subsequent climb up the ladder toward a big league managerial career.
Russ paid his dues in minor league outposts like Elizabethton, Tenn., Fort Myers, Fla., New Britain, Edmonton, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pa., and Ottawa. He served as a third-base coach in Pittsburgh before the Bucs gave him the keys prior to this season.
I saw Russ in Fort Myers this spring as the Pirates prepared to play a Grapefruit League game against the Twins. We talked about the once-proud Pirates of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell fame reduced to small-market pawns to MLB’s top-heavy titans. The Bucs are working on their 16th consecutive losing season.
Russ was so upbeat. My heart soared with the possibility that the soft-spoken, no-nonsense backstop who caught Nolan Ryan’s sixth no-hitter on June 11, 1990, would indeed lead the Pirates off turbulent seas into the calm waters of National League Central contention.
“We can’t worry about what’s happened in the past,” he said. “We came in with the idea from ownership on down on changing the culture and getting back to that tradition that’s associated with Pittsburgh.”
He was optimistic.
“Lower market teams that don’t have big payrolls have been competitive,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got good players. We’re concentrating on scouting and development and building a strong organization.”
He may have well been on his way until the Yankees had needs and the Pirates looked into their wallets instead of the hearts of their fans. Good-bye, Xavier Nady. Good-bye Damaso Marte. Hello, three pitchers who have a chance to be mediocre and a temperamental teenager who may grow up and be okay.
Now it’s good-bye to Jason Bay, whom many Boston fans didn’t know existed until late Thursday afternoon but was the name on the backs of so many folks’ jerseys in humble, blue-collar Steel City.
The Red Sox get Bay. The Dodgers get Manny. Pittsburgh comes away with two teams’ litter in exchange for its favorite son.
So what of Russell? The rookie manager gets judged on his record, which obviously isn’t going to be as good as it would have been. Maybe the Pirates will judge him accordingly. Maybe they won’t and they’ll move on to the next sitting duck.
The Pirates, like the A’s and others that get used solely for parts like scrap cars at the junkyard, claim they’re looking toward the future. But when the future becomes the present, they’ll still be looking ahead.
When will the fans get smart and stay away?