SportsProf

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

What Did He Expect -- the 1927 New York Yankees?

First-year Buccos skipper Jim Tracy has placed the blame on Pittsburgh's worst start in 52 years on the players. While Tracy's remarks may not be politic, they are accurate. Read here for his assessment of his team.

Here are a few things to consider:

1. The Pirates have been a bad team for years. Going into this season, they had 13 losing seasons in a row (scroll down the link for the gory details). What else could he have expected, that he could have waved a magic wand over the team and turned them into, well, the Detroit Tigers? He's not Jim Leyland, let alone this guy.

2. What good did Tracy accomplish? Didn't he basically tell his players that they stink and his front office that they aren't very good at providing players who can really play? That's certainly bound to cause the team to come together and start winning baseball games. I can imagine the clubhouse banter today.

Jason Bay: "Hi, Skip, glad that you were clear in your public comments. You know, I was thinking that myself the other day."

Tracy: "What was that, Jace?"

Bay: "That what was missing for this young team was to have our manager come out in public and humiliate the team. There's nothing like a good, old humiliation in front of the baseball world to right what was wrong."

Tracy: "That's what I was thinking, too, Jace. The real world is a harsh and gritty place, and few know that as well as our fans. I was figuring that if I gave the colts that message, they would start to step up and play better."

Bay: "You know what happens to kids who are raised that way, Jim?"

Tracy: "They become champions."

Bay: "I was thinking that if they always are surrounded by negativity, they end up doubting themselves, underachieving, dropping out, doing drugs and end up populating the nation's prisons."

Tracy: "Strap a pair on, son. You're supposed to be the leader of this team, so act like it. Ah, what was I supposed to expect from you, the sport that the good athletes play in your country is ice hockey."

Bay: "Thanks for the encouragement, Skipper. I suppose that in your old-school way of doing things, the boys and I are supposed to take your comments as a challenge, right? That those comments are supposed to make better men and players out of us?"

Tracy: "Darned right you are. Step up or ship up."

Bay: "My contract's longer than yours, Skip, and I'm the best player you got. I've got a pair and most of us play very hard every day. Perhaps it's you who needs to 'strap up or ship out,' Skip."

Lovely times ahead in the Steel City, aren't there?

3. Sometimes the negative comments people make are more a reflection on the commentator than the commented on. If Jim Tracy had been hired in Boston to take the Red Sox to the World Series and then the team played terribly, he'd perhaps have a point, although he'd have to be careful to ensure that it wasn't he who created a poisoned atmosphere for the players. Instead, he was hired to skipper a Pirates' squad that has only one bona fide position player in Jason Bay and perhaps one bona fide starter in Oliver Perez, and that's only when Perez shows up with his best stuff (which hasn't been often and which has Perez on the verge of being shipped to the minors). Okay, so the Pirates have the worst record in the National League, but is that really a surprise?

4. Yes, there is some truth, of course, to what Tracy is saying. The Pirates aren't losing because of any great conspiracy theories. They are losing because they are not a good baseball team. Pirates' fans shouldn't fret too much, though, as their Steelers just won the Super Bowl. Some cities, such as Philadelphia, would swap a horrid Phillies' season for an NFL title in a heartbeat. That, of course, doesn't make it any easier for Jim Tracy, but the fact of fandom is that big cities like getting world champions, and right now the Pittsburgh sports' faith is sated. Plus, it's a football town. Which means that the audience for this rant is rather small.

5. Here's what the Pirates' bloggers are saying:

From Honest Wagner: "In a loathesome, cowardly attempt to shirk accountability. . .," is the prelude, and then the post goes on to question not only Tracy's comments, but some of his managerial decisions. Read the whole thing.

From Bucco Blog: "I want to sit down and cry. I really do. . . What a bonehead thing to do."

Believe it or not, there are roughly 1/2 dozen blogs that dedicate themselves to the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is pretty remarkable since there isn't much joy in the Pirates' season and many bloggers tend to lose interest over time. I do recall the glory days of this franchise, not only in the early 1990's, but also in the 1970's, when the Pirates were the team that always figured out a way to beat you and came from 3-1 down in the '79 Series to beat the Orioles. It's bad enough that the team isn't playing well, but it's obviously worse when your manager has publicly gutted his team.

I have one piece of advice for Jim Tracy and Pirates' fans: patience. The Tigers rebuilt themselves primarily on pitching, and, let's face it, they've had better luck than you. They have Bonderman and Verlander, both outstanding young hurlers, while you've had Sean Burnett and John Van Beschoten, who once were great prospects who got hurt. That's not much solace, of course, but assuming that the front office knows what it's doing and has some money to spend on its farm system, the team can rebuild itself over time. Jimmy Leyland cannot be the answer to the question: "who turned the Tigers around this year?" He is part of the solution, but the main part, of course, is the players.

Which brings us back to Jim Tracy. Jim, you're right, it is the players, period. Few will dispute that contention. The thing of it is that you're supposed to be a leader, especially of young players, and you're supposed to put the positive face on things, teach players, work with them and, yes, in the day and age of the selfish athlete, nurture them. You have a good job, you get to be in outdoor venues in good weather coaching a game that was meant for kids, so overall how bad can it really be? Every baseball blogger would trade their job and compensation for your job, comp and benefits.

After all, if you polled the fans and asked them whether your squad had a better chance to win or lose 100 games, only blood relatives of the owners would have picked the former.

Things are bad for the Pirates, and with this latest public comment, it's hard to see them getting better soon.

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