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How Winning Has Changed The Narrative On The Pirates

Three years ago, this was approximately how many people in Neal Huntington Photo by Matt Freed/PGH Post-Gazette

Three years ago, this was approximately how many people believed in Neal Huntington
Photo by Matt Freed/PGH Post-Gazette

Certain media outlets attract a certain type of reader. Maybe that writer or reporter shares a common viewpoint of yours, so you start to follow him. Maybe that writer makes you laugh. Or makes you think. Or just helps you kill five minutes while you wait in traffic.

Some websites attract people who like statistical analysis. Some cater to those that just like to rant and rave. Some charge you money each month to read their “insider” opinions. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things.

And some media outlets channel the collective mood of a fanbase at a certain point in time and foment that emotional state in their writing and reporting. While the Pirates were wandering through the desert like Beatty and Hoffman in Ishtar, there were plenty of narratives that were ginned up to get the general public frothing at the mouth.

Here are some scenarios for us to examine how they would be viewed in 2015 now that the Pirates are winning:


In 2015, with the Pirates in the midst of a three year successful run and pretty much toasted nationally on how to run an organization, this would be hailed as ‘innovative’ and ‘out of the box’.

But in October 2012, just one month after the Pirates epically collapsed down the stretch to somehow continue the losing streak to 20 seasons, the news of the Pirates putting their prospects through Navy SEAL training was…less than well-received. The “Hoka Hey!” email from Kyle Stark painted him as a crazy loon. Dejan Kovacevic rode the story into the ground while he was on his campaign to embarrass Neal Huntington and shame Bob Nutting into action. Naturally the national media picked up on it and started to wag fingers also, anything to pile on.

This idea was so terrible that a bunch of other organizations started doing it. The Utah men’s basketball team went to the Sweet 16 in 2015 and credited their 3-day SEAL training. Or the excellent VCU men’s basketball team, which has been doing it for four years (one year before the Pirates were outed as ‘idiots’). Or any of these other teams listed on this company called Seal Team PT’s website that specializes in training of young men and women.


Last year, Grantland did an in-depth story on how the Pirates’ training staff was on the cutting edge of fitness to squeeze every last ounce out of their players. It centered mostly on how Russell Martin looked like a real-life Iron Man with a device that monitored his biometrics throughout the day. The Pirates were in the midst of an excellent season and Martin was in the midst of a career year.

This story made local and national media hail the Pirates as visionaries for finding the next great advantage that all small-revenue teams must exploit.

What if this story came out in the 2010 season as the Pirates were in the midst of a 57-105 tire fire of a season? I have to imagine the response would include a lot of ‘The Pirates should spend less money on the training staff and concentrate on more money for the team on the field’.

Now that Neal Huntington and his team have the organization humming along, they can branch out and start to explore new avenues such as this to try and improve the on-field product. The amount of money that’s dedicated to the training staff for things like this is probably less than half the cost of one minimum salary (approx. $500K) player for the Pirates.


The Pirates had one of the most uninspiring draft this side of the Dave Littlefield years last week. Out of 41 picks, the Pirates drafted 5 high school players. For whatever reason, they focused in on junior college players and snagged 7 of them. The rest were college players, none of whom are exactly dripping with upside.

Additionally, the 2015 minor league season has been a huge disappointment. As a result of the Pirates graduating a multitude of high-impact prospects in recent years (Cole, Marte, Polanco), the Pirates’ farm doesn’t have as much high-impact talent as it used to. However, they do still have Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, but Taillon has yet to pitch in a real game this year after Tommy John surgery last year and Glasnow has missed over a month as a result of an ankle injury. Add in prospects like Nick Kingham and Brandon Cumpton succumbing to the scalpel and disappointing performances by 2014 1st round pick Cole Tucker and 2013 1st rounder Reese McGuire and the farm is feeling a little fallow nowadays.

But here’s the thing — no one really cares like they would have five years ago. Right now all the attention is on the Major League Pirates, as it should be, and people are not living and dying on every box score in the minors. The present is exceedingly bright and the future sure seems like this will continue for a few more seasons.

However, a bad draft class has repercussions down the road. A team should get one starter and one bench/bullpen guy out of every draft to keep the flow of talent sustainable. The 2009 draft has pretty much been a complete bust — yes, some picks were traded as part of packages that returned Major League players — but overall the Pirates received very little. First round pick Tony Sanchez is on the verge of playing his way out of the Pirates’ plans; his failed ascendance led the Pirates to signing Russell Martin and trading for Francisco Cervelli. Those decisions cost the Pirates money and resources that could have been allocated elsewhere.


Noted local curmudgeons Ron Cook and Bob Smizik have written glowing articles in recent days about Huntington and the Pirates. They’re riding the wave of the current mood of the general fanbase. Those same writers, along with many others, were writing negative articles because that’s what their readership wanted.

The greatest cure for what ails a team is winning. I hope the worm doesn’t turn, but one day it will, whether it’s next month, next year, or five years from now. How will the narrative be written at that time?

About Kevin Creagh (154 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

2 Comments on How Winning Has Changed The Narrative On The Pirates

  1. Those are some straight up “Dad pants” Huntington is wearing in that photo. Looks like homeboy needs to do a couple of laps between innings. :)

    On Cook/Smizik: Those guys still actually work? Is there a bigger jock sniffer/front-runner in Pittsburgh sports than Cook?

    Remember when Smizik “retired” a few years back? That was a fun couple of days.

    • Kevin Creagh // June 18, 2015 at 7:49 PM // Reply

      The fact that Smizik runs a blog and churns out his material in his (presumed) underwear is hilarious/nauseating to me when I think about it.
      Ease off the dad pants on NH — we’re all getting older.

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