Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pirates owner Bob Nutting now face of franchise

By Kevin Gorman
January 20, 2018
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting discusses the trade of Andrew McCutchen to the Giants Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, at PNC Park.
Bob Nutting discusses the trade of Andrew McCutchen at PNC Park on January 15th. (Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review)

By trading both the ace and face of their franchise in a three-day span, the Pirates sent a resounding message:
Players come and players go, but this owner and front office will forever break your heart.
The Pirates did just that to a frustrated fan base when they sent Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros and Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for packages of prospects, then talked about the team's commitment to winning a World Series.
That they said so with straight faces was stunning, even from an organization that has yet to start a season with a payroll of more than $100 million.
“I'm not even going to attempt to rationalize it because I respect and appreciate where our fans are,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
“We want them to think with their hearts. We want them to fall in love with our players. It's my job to give them lots of players to fall in love with.”
Before anyone ordains Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell as the next objects of your affection, let's be abundantly clear: The Pirates have no intention of them finishing their careers here, either.
The Pirates haven't had an all-star spend his entire career with the franchise since Willie Stargell, who retired in 1982 and died the day PNC Park hosted its first home opener in 2001.
No, the face of this franchise is not a fresh-faced prospect with the promise of becoming the Pirates' next All-Star but rather a bespectacled 55-year-old newspaper heir and resort owner from Wheeling, W.Va., who is more interested in making money than spending it.
That's why we've dubbed him Bottom-Line Bob Nutting. He's the billionaire owner of a franchise valued at $1.25 billion by Forbes who cries the small-market blues while pocketing profits.
Never mind the only financial restraints in a system that has revenue sharing but no salary cap are self-imposed.
No wonder Pirates fans feel betrayed by Nutting, as evidenced by more than 53,000 signatures on a petition urging MLB to force him to sell the Pirates.
Fans can't force Nutting to sell, but they should demand he put his money where his mouth is.
If the Pirates want to field a championship-caliber team, Bottom-Line Bob must start spending.
The frustration boiled over for Jason Kauffman, whose online petition calls Pittsburgh “a baseball town that is being destroyed by a greedy owner.”
“I really don't think this is going to make him sell the team, but we want to send a clear message that fans are not happy,” said Kauffman, 43, of Ross, a former season-ticket holder who plans to boycott the home opener.
“I love baseball. It's a tradition in my family, with my dad and my nephew. How do you tell a kid about their favorite player being traded? My 8-year-old nephew (Landon) was in tears. He didn't want to play baseball anymore. You don't want to tell him, ‘It's a business.' ”
That became clear after they followed three consecutive playoff appearances, including a 98-win season in 2015, by failing to invest in starting pitching in their infamous “bridge year” of '16.
It was a bridge to nowhere, as the Pirates proved last season, when they didn't reinvest the $4 million saved on Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte into a team that was in playoff contention.
What's worse, Nutting talks about infusing the team with talent while refusing to commit to increasing payroll, despite an impending $50 million payout from Disney's $1 billion investment in MLB's BAMTech.
Yet, Nutting had the audacity to talk about appreciating Pirates fans' passion and understanding their anger.
“When we put a team on the field that respects those fans, that respects the market and the history of this franchise,” he said, “they've come out and supported us tremendously well.”
It's time for Pirates fans to get a return on their investment the way Bottom-Line Bob Nutting has on his.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Andrew McCutchen's legacy as all-time Pirates great is rock solid

January 16, 2018
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Every baseball fan, on some level, dreams of a hypothetical world where they have the power to affect their favorite sport. 
"If I was the Diamondbacks GM, I'd trade all my best prospects for Manny Machado." Or, "If I was commissioner, I would ban the DH from baseball." Or, "If I owned the Cardinals, I would retire Adam Wainwright's number the moment he retires."
That sort of thing. Fans love talking about it, as they should. Conversations like that are fun. They allow fans to connect with their favorite sport. And baseball writers do that, too, as we try and figure out what trades make sense, what free-agent matchups fit. It's only natural. 
One of the conversations that comes up pretty regularly is this: If you were a team owner starting a franchise from scratch, who's the one current player you would build your team around? I've had only one answer to that question for several years now: Andrew McCutchen. 
I would build my franchise around Andrew McCutchen, a person who is everything a baseball fan could possibly hope for in a superstar. I feel confident that Pirates fans realize how special McCutchen was, how much he impacted that franchise and that city. 
He was an MVP on the field, and an even bigger superstar away from the ballpark. McCutchen embraced the legacy left by Roberto Clemente (he even won MLB's Clemente Award in 2015). McCutchen, who grew up in Fort Meade, Fla., embraced the passion of a Pittsburgh fan base desperate for a winning ballclub. McCutchen embraced the essence of the identity of that region — he named his firstborn “Steel,” for crying out loud. McCutchen embraced the idea of being a role model to baseball-loving kids everywhere. 
Most baseball fans live their entire lives and never get the chance to root for a homegrown guy like McCutchen. He never gave Pirates fans any reason to be anything other than proud to call him their own, because McCutchen understood what it meant to represent his team and his community. I can't think of McCutchen and Pittsburgh fans without thinking back to that one interaction with a couple of young Pirates fans in the outfield stands in 2015. 
The list of those types of connections in baseball right now is short: Joey Votto in Cincinnati, Francisco Lindor in Cleveland, Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles and Jose Altuve in Houston, to name a few. McCutchen was Pirates baseball. And the truth is this: Even though he's wearing a Giants uniform now, McCutchen is still Pirates baseball. 
The Pirates took him 11th overall in the 2005 draft, and he tantalized the fanbase with his talent as he marched through the minor leagues, even as he worked hard on his shortcomings as a young player. When he arrived in the majors in 2009, the franchise hadn't finished even .500 in 16 seasons. McCutchen just got better every year as he learned how to thrive in the bigs —  a 2.3 rWAR as a rookie, a 3.8 rWAR in 2010 and a 5.7 rWAR in 2011. 
He knew something special was building in Pittsburgh, and he signed a six-year, $51.5 million deal with the Pirates during spring training 2012. That deal bought out his final three years of arbitration — avoiding the animosity often bred by that exercise — and his first two years of free agency, with an option to buy out the third (the 2018 season).
And you know what he did after signing that financial-future-securing deal? McCutchen proved himself worthy. That's a pattern that repeated itself over and over during his nine MLB seasons with the Pirates.
He finished third in the 2012 NL MVP voting, hitting 31 home runs to go with a .327 average, .953 OPS and 7.0 rWAR, and the Pirates won 79 games that year, their highest total since 1997. And then you know what he did? He won the NL MVP in 2013, posting an 8.1 rWAR, with a .317 average, 21 homers, 27 stolen bases and a .911 OPS, helping the Pirates to 94 wins and their first playoff berth since the Barry Bonds era.
In 2014, McCutchen finished third in the NL MVP and the Pirates again claimed a wild-card spot. In 2015, McCutchen finished fifth in the NL MVP voting and Pittsburgh won 98 games, a victory total that was almost unfathomable when the franchise was mired in its two-decade slump. Heck, in 2009-10, the Pirates won a TOTAL of 119 games over two seasons.
None of this happens without McCutchen. None of it. 
He never wanted to leave, but he's suiting up for San Francisco in 2018. His legacy in Pittsburgh is secure, regardless where he finishes his career. He's set to become a free agent after this season, which is why the Pirates traded him now. 
McCutchen is in the conversation for the greatest Pirates of all-time, along with Clemente, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, Paul Waner, Ralph Kiner and Barry Bonds. With a strong second half to his career — he turned 31 in October — a spot in Cooperstown, at baseball's Hall of Fame, is a possibility.
You can bet he'll prove himself worthy.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pirates’ front office audacious and tone-deaf in equal measure

By Chris Mueller
January 17, 2018
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Frank Coonelly and Bob Nutting
I don’t know whether to be offended or weirdly impressed as a person who has followed the Pirates for my entire life and covered them as a member of the media for just about the last decade.
I can’t decide if the collective statements from Bob Nutting, Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington, statements made after the trades of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, are more offensive in their tone-deafness, or impressive in their audacity.
Huntington can’t seem to decide whether or not the Pirates are actually rebuilding, which is somewhat problematic, seeing as he is the general manager. Joe Starkey and I spoke with him Tuesday on The Fan, and he stuck to his story that the Pirates, post-Cole and McCutchen trades, were on the edge of playoff contention, according to the team’s internal projections.
The general manager went on to compare this coming year’s team to the 2013 squad that came out of nowhere to win 94 games, shock the baseball world, and finally put an end to 20 years of losing. Problem is, there are some key differences between the 2018 Pirates and that group.
First off, that team had, well, Andrew McCutchen. And he was coming off of his best season, entering the prime of his career. He was the kind of cornerstone piece, performing at a high level, that every team needs in order to be successful.
That team also had Cole waiting in the wings as a call-up. To say Cole was a shot in the arm would be an understatement. He was so good that by the end of the year, he was the man getting the ball to try and push the Pirates past St. Louis in Game 5 of the NLDS.
This year’s team has ... what, exactly? Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, two players who have disappointed fans for multiple reasons? I don’t trust either man to become a breakout superstar. Marte is what he is, and that might not be much, post-PED suspension. Polanco is still young enough to make a leap, but nothing I’ve seen suggests that that will happen.
Where’s the 2013 Gerrit Cole for the rotation? It certainly doesn’t look like Tyler Glasnow will fill that role, given the fact that he still can’t throw strikes consistently at the major-league level. Francisco Cervelli isn’t Russell Martin, Ivan Nova and Trevor Williams aren’t Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, and so on.
What’s more, the Pirates’ ground ball-oriented approach of five years ago, one that was novel when combined with the team’s aggressive defensive shifting philosophy, is now commonplace around the league. The team isn’t exploiting any market inefficiencies this time around. They aren’t sneaking up on anyone.
Coonelly spoke about the team defying expectations this year, a sentiment that rings especially hollow when Cole and McCutchen, two players who would have helped things to that end, are freshly minted members of new teams.
That said, the buck stops, literally and figuratively, with Bob Nutting. Anger at Huntington and Coonelly is fine, and justified, but no member of the front office has been more brazen in his flouting of reality than the team’s principal owner. No one person is more responsible for the Pirates’ current situation than the man who signs the checks.
Asked if the team would ever escape the cycle of developing talent only to trade it away when the price tag got too high, Nutting suggested that such a situation would require a fundamental reworking of baseball’s economic model. Some might assume that to mean that he isn’t thrilled with the status quo. The truth is quite the opposite. Nutting and the Pirates ratified the last collective bargaining agreement a few years ago. The only team that didn’t was the Tampa Bay Rays.
Make no mistake -- the Pirates could spend more money on their payroll. They’re profitable. Money keeps pouring in for major-league teams, be it from MLB Advanced Media payouts, or from revenue sharing, something designed to help level the playing field to some degree for smaller market teams.
The funds are there. The owner has chosen not to spend them. He was not forced to do this. This is the path he chose. The fallout is his to reap.
Barring something highly unlikely, the Pirates won’t contend this year. Same goes for 2019, and maybe 2020 and beyond. The only group of people who seem to think that this is fine, that this is OK, that this is all more or less part of the plan, and not a major betrayal of the team’s loyal fans, is the front office.
I’d almost be impressed at the audacity, if I wasn’t so disgusted.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of the ‘Starkey & Mueller Show’ from 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 The Fan.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Steelers should use QB sneak or better explain why they don't

By Tim Benz
January 16, 2018

Ben Roethlisberger, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and Todd Haley

After a Steelers loss fans often scream: “The offense is too predictable!”
After that same loss, though, you might also hear just as many screaming: “The offense is too complicated! They outthink themselves!”
This column is for Group B.
Any team that doesn't have a quarterback sneak in its playbook is genuinely outthinking itself.
As we all know by now, the Steelers don't have a quarterback sneak in their playbook. What no one has properly explained is: How come?
Many teams would've run a quarterback sneak on either of Pittsburgh's failed fourth-and-1 attempts during the club's playoff loss against Jacksonville on Sunday. The Steelers chose against doing so both times.
Instead, at Jacksonville's 39-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 12 minutes, 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Earlier in the game at the Jaguars' 21-yard line, the team mystifyingly elected a pitch wide to Le'Veon Bell. It lost 4 yards. Why pitch the ball backwards 5 or 6 yards in an attempt to go a few feet forward? It's counterintuitive.
So is involving dropping back, pass blocking, throwing, getting open and catching as opposed to falling forward 3 feet.
With a 6-foot-5 quarterback who rarely gets tackled easily.
The NFL Media Research account tweeted Roethlisberger is 18 of 19 on fourth-down runs.
Granted, those might not all be traditional sneaks, per se. But odds are most of those aren't exactly shotgun draws, wild scrambles or designed bootlegs.
So if Roethlisberger is good at it, and there is a need for a sneak in the playbook, why haven't the Steelers let him do it on a fourth-and-1 since 2014?
“I truly have never said ‘I don't want to run it,' ” Roethlisberger said on his KDKA-FM radio show. “I have asked for it. I am fine with it. If they want to call it, I'm all for it.”
The quarterback made similar comments in late October. That lead to an odd back-and-forth with offensive coordinator Todd Haley a few days later.
Reporter: “Ben says he doesn't know why you guys don't run the quarterback sneak.”
—Pause—
Haley: “Ben said that?”
Reporter: “Ben said that.”
Haley: “Um, maybe we'll have to get it in.”
Apparently they didn't.
I was there for that exchange. Haley's confusion made me wonder if this was a coaching and/or ownership decision. Was Haley's surprised response perhaps because Roethlisberger didn't want to run it either?
If so, Haley didn't lift the curtain. He simply went on to call the absence of a QB sneak “a general staff decision” because “some coaching staffs choose to not allow their quarterback to get earholed in the side of the head.”
OK. So the goal is to protect Roethlisberger from concussions. Well as of this ESPN study about the QB sneak on November 8th, Tom Brady had done it 124 times in his career.
If it's such a risky play, why have the Patriots exposed the most valuable asset in football that often?
“Whether or not we choose to call it in a specific moment is up for debate,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “But to suggest there is a resistance to it in concept, I'm not willing to say that.”
Well, based on those numbers stated above, somebody must be consciously resisting it. I'm of the opinion Roethlisberger is at least complicit in the agreement to avoid running the sneak often.
After all, this a quarterback that is excellent at improvisation and is never shy about announcing to the media when he has changed a play based on a last moment look or told a receiver to vamp a route based on a feel he has gotten from the defense.
But a mundane QB sneak is off the board?
Roethlisberger pointed out on his show that the whole offensive line needs to know an audible to a QB sneak is happening. So it would only be something he could improvise during a huddle.
Great. How about all that time during Jacksonville's time out in between third and fourth down in the first quarter? Was that sufficient time?
Putting a ban on — or at the least failing to incorporate — a quarterback sneak is stupid. It's an incredibly simple play. It's a practical play. And, as we saw Sunday, the world will notice if you don't use it.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

The Pirates Could Have Been Contenders, but Ownership Cried Poverty and Betrayed Their Fans

By JON TAYLER 
https://www.si.com/mlb
January 16, 2018

Image result for andrew mccutchen 2015 playoffs

Oct 7, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) high-fives teammates during player introductions against the Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card playoff baseball game at PNC Park. The Cubs won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The high-water mark of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 21st century came on the night of Oct. 1, 2013, as 40,487 fans clad in black and gold rang PNC Park with chants of “CUE-TO, CUE-TO.” On the mound stood Reds ace Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati’s choice to start the NL wild-card game against a Pirates team that was making its first postseason appearance in 21 years. But in the second inning, he’d run into trouble, surrendering a solo home run to Marlon Byrd that brought out the chants. A few minutes later, Cueto, while facing Russell Martin, dropped the ball while transferring it from glove to hand. The chants grew louder. On the very next pitch, Martin rocketed a ball out over the left-center wall for a home run. The chants became deafening.
It had been two decades since Pirates fans had anything at all to cheer about, much less a playoff team. Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati that night to advance to the Division Series, then took a 2–1 lead on the Cardinals. The Pirates’ first trip to a pennant series since 1992 was one win away. But then the wave broke as the Cardinals rallied to win the series and move on to the NLCS. The Pirates made the playoffs the next two years but ran into Madison Bumgarner in the former and Jake Arrieta in the latter and lost in the wild-card game both times. Pittsburgh slumped from 98 wins in 2015 to 78 in ’16 to 75 last year. That wild October night receded further and further into the distance.
Now the hope of ever getting back to those heights seems to be a lifetime away. Over the course of 48 hours from Saturday through Monday, the Pirates didn’t just punt their 2018 chances by trading Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen; they also announced that sustained contention in Pittsburgh is a pipe dream. In trading both players—Cole to HoustonMcCutchen to San Francisco—ownership declared the current team’s window of opportunity shut and moved on to sowing the seeds for the future. But it’s hard not to feel like, even as the team was coming off that magical 2013 run, the Pirates didn’t do enough to keep that window open as long as they could.
Few teams could boast as impressive a young core as the 2013 Pirates. McCutchen, Cole, Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Josh Harrison were all homegrown stars under 30, with top prospect Gregory Polanco joining them in 2014. The pieces were in place to build something special and sustainable. But winter after winter, the small-market Pirates refused to spend or sacrifice prospects. The winter after the wild-card win over the Reds, Pittsburgh’s only addition of note was journeyman starter Edinson Volquez. A year later, it was the low-cost veteran combo of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano. And the year after that, coming off 98 wins and a second-place finish in the NL Central, the offseason consisted of letting Alvarez walk and trading Walker to the Mets while signing bargain-bin options like John Jaso, Ryan Vogelsong, and David Freese.
To do so little when given McCutchen, Cole and more is a baseball crime. The next step was within reach, but every time, the Pirates pulled up short, choosing instead to spend little or stick to the status quo. Contrast that to their fellow small-market also-rans, the Royals, who similarly turned a fecund farm system into surprise contention but also chose to go for it when they had the chance, landing Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto at the 2015 trade deadline, cost be damned. The result: the first World Series title in Kansas City in 30 years. Pittsburgh, sitting on its hands year after year, will enter 2018 on a 39-year title drought.
And you can expect that streak to go on indefinitely, because Pirates ownership has made it clear that spending what it takes to make the team a contender isn’t ever going to be in the cards. Here’s what Pittsburgh principal owner Bob Nutting told reporters on Monday night after trading McCutchen:
Reading that response, keep in mind that Nutting is a billionaire who owns a newspaper conglomerate and is the chairman of a ski resort in Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that, before the 2017 season, Forbes valued the Pirates as being worth $1.25 billion. Keep in mind that the Pirates are revenue sharing recipients, and that their $109 million payroll in 2017 was 25th in the league, some $50 million below the MLB average. Keep in mind that, in 2010, the AP reported that Pittsburgh—which opened that season with the lowest payroll in baseball at just $39.4 million—made $29.4 million in ’07 and ’08. And keep in mind that, at some point this year, every MLB owner, including Nutting, will receive $50 million from the league, no strings attached, as part of its sale of a majority stake in BAMTech to Disney (on top of the $33 million each already received in 2016 for a minority stake sale).
Does that sound like a team that needs to be counting every penny, or that can’t find a way to put the pieces around McCutchen and Cole to compete for a World Series? Those two players will make just under $22 million combined in 2018, a pittance in today’s market, yet Pittsburgh decided that was a financial bridge too far. And from the way Nutting makes it sound, nothing would have changed that. A team worth a billion dollars and with nearly $300 million in revenue last year chooses to hide behind cries of poverty. A billionaire complains about how the game is rigged against him and chooses to cut payroll, deal away stars, and play next season on the cheap (the Pirates have a mere $70 million on the books for 2018). In the battle between the fans and the bottom line, the money won.
Therein lies the real tragedy of the Pirates dealing away Cole and McCutchen. After two decades of irrelevance and stupidity and stinginess and losing, after watching top-10 draft picks get wasted on Bryan Bullington and J.J. Davis and Bobby Bradley, the Pirates had finally unearthed true franchise stars. Here was a gift beyond belief—and the Pirates wasted it. They had the chance to break through, to build teams around McCutchen and Cole that would contend for years. But instead, they’ve torn it all down because it would’ve cost too much.
All across Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, kids and adults alike are taking down McCutchen posters or bundling up jerseys and trying to talk themselves into believing that the next Cole and McCutchen are just around the corner. But there are plenty more who recognize this as the usual song and dance from a team that refuses to try, that just gave away the face of the franchise to save a few million dollars and will be nigh unwatchable for who knows how long, and that the next McCutchen will be shipped out, too, the moment his price gets too high.
McCutchen loved the city of Pittsburgh, and they loved him back. He was their superstar, the one who was going to carry them back to glory. Instead, they’ll watch from afar as he toils for another team, thousands of miles away from the home that should have been his forever. They deserved a better ending than this—and a better future than the one Pirates ownership has condemned them to.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The unique sadness of the Andrew McCutchen trade

Before going the way of every Pirates star, McCutchen led a full-scale baseball revival in Pittsburgh.


January 16, 2018


The first time I ever felt convinced my baseball team was good was July 8, 2012. The Pirates beat the Giants at PNC Park that afternoon, 13-2, on the strength of a strong A.J. Burnett start and two home runs from Andrew McCutchen. Pittsburgh entered the day 47-37, and the win sent the Bucs off to the All-Star break in position to end the longest losing-seasons streak in major North American sports history: 19 years.
The Pirates ended that day a game up in the NL Central. Both McCutchen home runs met with thunderous MVP chants from a decent crowd of 30,000. They’d collapse after the break and finish 79-83, a preposterous 18 games out. But McCutchen established himself as a superstar, the best player the Pirates had put on the field since early-’90s Barry Bonds. He’d go on to be the cornerstone player on the first winning Pirates club of my lifetime in 2013 and additional playoff teams the two years after that.
McCutchen’s brilliance during a four-year peak from 2012 to 2015 is obvious to anyone who can read a Baseball-Reference page. He won the National League’s MVP honor in 2013 and made five All-Star Games in five years at one point, with four Silver Sluggers sprinkled in. The list of playersmore valuable than him in that spanMike Trout, and that’s it. Everything about McCutchen was a thrill — his wide-receiver speed, his first-baseman power, the personality that still oozes out of him.
The trade of McCutchen to the Giants on Monday isn’t just sad because it means the Pirates are tearing down a core that won 98 games three seasons ago. Tanking rebuilds happen all the time, all around the league. Baseball economics and the Pirates’ stinginess made it obvious for years that this day was coming right about now, one year before the end of a seven-year, $65 million extension McCutchen signed in 2012.

This isn’t just sad because it ends an era. It’s sad because it ends the only somewhat happy era a generation of Pirates fans has ever seen.


The Pirates’ two decades in the wilderness between Sid Bream’s slide in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS and the McCutchen-led revival in 2013 cost the franchise legions of young fans. The baseball club has become a distant third in the city behind the Steelers and Penguins — a status born from years of losing, aggravated by a sense that ownership’s never really been interested in spending to make the team competitive.
But what the Pirates did from 2013-15 was magical, even though they didn’t get beyond one playoff game in two of the three years. They regularly sold out their jewel of a ballpark on the North Shore. They had a fun cast of young players, some perfect veteran fits like Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Russell Martin, and, in Clint Hurdle, a manager who’d make you want to run through a wall. McCutchen was the catalyst for everything, an all-world centerpiece in center field.
Their 2013 Wild Card Game win against the Reds will stand as one of the best moments in the city’s modern sports history. That was the night 39,000 people all dressed in black dogged the Reds’ Jonny Cueto by chanting his name in a long, yinzer drawl — “CUEEEEETTOOOOO” — until Cueto literally dropped the ball and then gave up a home run to Martin on the next pitch.
That wasn’t a McCutchen moment, strictly speaking, but it might as well have been. Even as general manager Neal Huntington built a team around him, McCutchen was the Pirates’ pride. (He reached base four times in five plate appearances that night, anyway.)
Pittsburgh is a tribal sports city. The athletes it loves most are the ones who love it back. McCutchen had only played there for four years out of the 20-year losing streak the Pirates ended in 2013, his MVP season. But when the Bucs won their 82nd game on a hot September night in Arlington, Texas, McCutchen looked to the heavens like he’d suffered through all those years of losing just like the rest of us.
The game that clinched the end of the losing streak was a 1-0 win against the Rangers. The starting pitcher was Gerrit Cole, a No. 1 overall pick a few years earlier who struck out nine in seven innings. The Pirates traded Cole to the Astros for an unexciting package two days before dealing McCutchen. (The two relievers who followed Cole that night in Arlington, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, are long gone.)
The Pirates never did break all the way through. Their Wild Card win in 2013 gave way to a five-game NLDS loss to the Cardinals. They lost one-game playoffs to Peak Madison Bumgarner and Peak Jake Arietta the next two years, and they probably would’ve faced a time-traveling Nolan Ryan if they’d made another.
They didn’t score a run in their 2014 and 2015 Wild Card losses. I have no idea when their next chance to score a run in the postseason will be, but it’s not going to be soon.

The Pirates’ window is shut now.

They were losers in 2016 and 2017, as McCutchen declined from a star to merely pretty good. Now McCutchen’s gone the way of every Pirates star since Bonds. Cutch’s departure will sting a little more than the day Huntington traded Jason Bay.
This happens in baseball, the American sport most tilted toward rich teams. But no other team knew futility as never-ending as the Pirates’, and nobody else had this perfect a superstar at this perfect a moment to vanquish all of that at once.
Pittsburgh sports fans are, on the whole, spoiled. If you were born in 1994 like me, you missed golden eras for all three major professional teams in the city. But you’ve still seen three Stanley Cups since 2009 and two Super Bowl wins since 2006.
At least everyone’s got other things to watch. Continued emotional investment in the Pirates has revealed itself to be a swindle, only worthwhile for fleeting moments during what’s now going to be a third decade of general mediocrity or worse.
Maybe the Pirates will find another Andrew McCutchen one day. That they couldn’t do more with the one they had is one of their worst tragedies yet.