September 5th, 2010. The Pirates lose 8-1 to the Washington Nationals to fall to 45-91 in a miserable season that will get worse. John Russell is the manager. The rotation is lead by Ross Ohlendorf– who went 1-11– and Paul Maholm — who recorded a 5.10 ERA. This is rock bottom.
That day, the Pirates unveiled a twelve and a half foot bronze statue by the right field entrance that is never used because it is awkwardly out of the way of the main traffic flows to the stadium. That is assuming there would ever was traffic to the ballpark. Only 18,047 people showed up on the beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Oh well. The attendance didn ?t matter that day. The riverwalk is one of the most beautiful parts of the criminally under-utilized stadium. It ?s a natural home for one of the most iconic moments in baseball history: Bill Mazeroski coming home after his World Series clinching home run.
But it all felt a tad…forced.
Does Maz deserve a statue? Maybe. But one thing was apparent: the Pirates were running out of ways to sell their product. They were literally going back in time to try to convince people to become a Pirate fan. And that history they could call upon was getting thin.
The Yankees, Giants and Cardinals always seemed to have a future Hall of Famer on the roster. The Pirates didn ?t. What could they do after Maz? Erect a statue for Paul Waner? Bestow Barry Bonds ? name on the rotunda? Create an interactive gallery where fans can relive Billy Meyer ?s 1952 Pirates team that went 42-112?
Meanwhile, the Steelers are gearing up for a season where they would reach the Super Bowl for the third time in Ben Roethlisberger ?s career. He was building a Hall of Fame worthy career and was the face of the winningest franchise in NFL history. Even if the sexual assault allegations against him soured the public on the team, the Steelers could always show off Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward, who were both All-Pros on and off the field. Sidney Crosby has already hoisted a Cup and become the toast of the town. Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury were equally beloved. The future was just as bright for both franchises, too. The Penguins have not missed the playoffs and the Steelers have not finished worse than .500 since. They are both among the favorites to win another championship in 2017.
The Pirates ? desperately needed someone to market. Someone to build around. Someone who could maybe one day be worthy of a statue of his own. Getting this guy would be necessary not only to try to compete for another championship, but to stop the running joke that Pittsburgh was the City of Champions…and the Pirates.
There is one guy on the roster who may be able to do it. Lost in the midst of the lopsided loss in September 2010 was the center fielder ?s multi-hit performance. It didn ?t mean much this day, but maybe one day his hits will.
Seven years and two weeks later, Andrew McCutchen is still in center field. He ?s a little more war torn now, battling through extended slumps, a position change and trade rumors. It ?s still Cutch, though, and without him, who knows if the Pirates would have ever snapped their streak of losing seasons.
This may be McCutchen’s last homestand as a Pirate. He was almost dealt away last offseason, and the Pirates have a history of trading players on the last year of the contract, like Neil Walker, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon. It ?s how small market teams have to operate. Face of the franchise or not, there is a very real chance that this eight game stretch of home games is the last in McCutchen ?s Pirate career.
Go to the ballpark this homestand.
Yes, the team is playing like garbage. The promotions this time of year stink, too. You may have work or school in the morning. Maybe you just don ?t want to line the pockets of the current ownership. Getting out of the city is a pain in the tuchus when the Liberty Bridge closes, and paying for parking always sucks.
Look, we ?ve all seen worse Pirate teams than this one. Firework nights have been overdone, but they ?re hardly terrible. Call in sick tomorrow or skip that 8 a.m. class (8 a.m. classes were made to be skipped). Buy your tickets off of Stubhub, or if you like to live dangerously, from a scalper. I-376 is pretty empty at night, and if you park at six, there ?s free street parking. For every good reason to not go, there is a better one to go: giving McCutchen a proper potential send-off.
McCutchen did the lion share of making the Pirates matter again. While he never won it all, the 2013 and 2015 teams he anchored were plenty good enough and probably would have if they were playing under the old wild card rules. Getting people to care again was almost as difficult as hoisting a trophy. He ?s had a remarkable Pirate career.
Unfortunately, he seems poised for an unremarkable departure soon. Fans and journalists who don ?t know how baseball contracts work have made a big deal that the Pirates haven ?t exercised his team option yet. Barring a serious injury in these last two weeks, they will. The more likely option is he gets traded this offseason. If he isn ?t traded then, a midseason blockbuster seems likely. At the very latest, he ?s leaving after the 2018 season.
To make matters worse, this potential last homestand is going to be full of empty seats. His 2014 and 2015 teams saw the Pirates set new attendance records. There will be smaller crowds this week than that 2010 Sunday in September.
He deserves better than that, and the fans can fix it. It may not be a full house, but it can be filled enough. Get them to cheer ?MVP! ? one more time.
I ?ve jumped the gun on anticipating a McCutchen trade before. It ?s coming someday, and my money is on this offseason. If I am right, let ?s make this finale count.
Go to the ballpark.