By Richard A. Mathews
Originally published 5/22/2001
It is funny how time and different priorities effect memories.
Today - in the Post-Gazette - Bucco skipper Lloyd McClendon tried to make a comparison between the 2001 Pirates and the 1989 club he played on.
McClendon brought out that injuries to the 1989 Pirates turned promise into a disappointing season. What he left out was the fact, the 1988 team had gone 85-75 under Jim Leyland in the third year of Syd Thrift's rebuilding plan.
It is funny how differently McClendon remembers the 1989 Pirate team than I do.
In 1989 through 1990, I was working to save a Pittsburgh institution called the Press Club. As the Acting Controller, I had the responsibility of restructuring the organization under the terms set forth in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
One of my joys was eating dinner at the window seats and looking out over Pittsburgh. Talk had begun that a new baseball only park might be built up the Allegheny from Three Rivers stadium.
I had had the pleasure of talking to Carl Barger, one of the often forgotten icons who saved Pirate baseball in Pittsburgh.
Barger saw the economics of the game squeezing the Bucs out of contention if they didn't get a new home and it broke his heart.
While McClendon looks at 1989 as the last year before the good times rolled, Barger looked at 1989 as the year the club realized it could not afford to sign its stars long term.
This fact would lead to the departure of Thrift and the eventual reign of Cam Bonifay.
McClendon played on a Pirate team which grew up together.
There were no high priced veterans brought in to provide leadership.
Only Don Slaught among the starters played on even good big market clubs.
The team Thrift put together and Leyland made into a winning machine was the result of good drafts, solid trades and most importantly, sticking to the plan.
Don't forget Bonds hit .220 something as a rookie.
Who wants to remember King hit under .200 his first year.
Bell bounced up and down a couple times before ending up an All Star.
Bonnilla had to be traded back from the White Sox to begin his second career in the organization.
1989 saw a Pirate team grow together through adversity which added to the chemistry of three division winners.
That can't be the case with the 2001 Pirates.
The revolving door which has spun hundreds on men into and out of Pirate uniforms under the nine years of Cam never lets any chemistry develop.
Next year will see more current Buccos move on due to free agency if they aren't traded before the season ends.
The middle infield still remains inadequate.
As of today, no baseball man would be satisfied with the situation the Bucs have in center and right.
After Ritchie and Anderson, who are the starting pitchers penciled in for 2002?
No, the 2001 Bucs have only one thing in common with the 1989 Pirates, "They can't keep doing things as they have in the past."
And that my friends is the difference between how I remember 1989 Pirates and how our current skipper does.
It takes time and planning to build something as fragile as a winning baseball team or a winning business.
You can't keep changing your strategy just avoid the criticism of the day. You need a plan not a Public Relations ploy.
But then of course, Mac never had to worry about paying the bills, I did.