Sports are being played, and life seems normal again.

Watching the Pittsburgh Pirates for these first nine games made me realize I was right about one thing. They stink. But just how bad is this version of the Pittsburgh Pirates compared to others I’ve had the, er, pleasure of watching in my lifetime?

The Pirates, much to my chagrin, have given plenty of options to choose from throughout the last 40 years. I don’t have the time, space, or mental capacity to look at all of the terrible Pirates teams, so I have chosen three particularly putrid squads for my comparison.

1985

Back in the 80’s, the Pirates came off the high of a World Championship in 1979 and ended the decade as a rising contender that would eventually win three straight division titles to start the 90’s. Like all rollercoasters you eventually go downhill, and the Pirates hit rock bottom in 1985. That team went 57-104, with the lowest attendance in all of baseball.

The 1985 team was littered with washed up veterans and never going to be prospects. In the field you had the likes of first baseman Jason Thompson, who would be out of baseball a year later. At third was a past his prime and sick of Pittsburgh Bill Madlock. Three of the guys helping patrol the outfield were Sixto “I was good that one year back in the 70’s” Lezcano, Steve “You want me to run hard” Kemp, and “Joggin, nah I ain’t even joggin” George Hendrick. Coming off the bench was Bill Almon, Jim Morrison—unfortunately not the singer, and Lee Mazzilli.

Fortunately, the Bucs had two vets with something left in the tank. Rick Reuschel and Rick Rhoden anchored the pitching staff, and probably prevented the team from losing 120 games. Rhoden was inconsistent, but Reuschel was good all year. Minus the two Ricks, this team’s Pirate ship may have sunk even lower.

The young guys the Pirates were banking on, such as Sammy Khalifa, Marvel Wynne, Lee Tunnell, and Jose DeLeon never panned out. DeLeon actually had the infamous record of 2-19 that season. Wynne hit .205, and he would never hit more than .265 in five more seasons spent mostly on teams’ benches. Khalifa never reached 500 career at bats. DeLeon would eventually find some success elsewhere, though he would lose 19 games again in 1990 for St. Louis.

That was the end of Chuck Tanner, and it was a pretty bleak time in Pirates history. Johnny Ray was their best player and a Tony Pena was still fun to watch. Otherwise, yuck.

1995

Fast forward ten years to 1995. The season was shortened to 144 games due to the strike of 1994. This may have prevented the Pirates from being a 100 loss team.

This team had some holdovers from the division winning teams of the early 90’s like Jay Bell, Orlando Merced, and Jeff King. Highly touted prospects Carlos Garcia and Al Martin joined them. None of these guys had terrible seasons, and some were quite solid. There was a black hole at first base where minor league sensation Mark Johnson never panned out.

The pitching is what made this team so very, very bad. Take Denny Neagle plus relievers Dan Plesac and Jason Christiansen out of the mix and nobody else had an ERA under 4.50. Jog your memory to recall these names: John Ericks, Paul Wagner, Steve Parris, Esteban Loaiza, Dan Micelli, Mike Dyer, Jeff McCurry, and Rick White. Not exactly a who’s who of all stars.

The ‘95 team gave up tons of runs, had no real boppers on offense, and helped drive Jim Leyland out of Pittsburgh a year later. Little did fans know they were only in the infancy of 20 straight losing seasons.

2010

The last team I chose is based mainly on record. The 2010 team was 57-105, a truly embarrassing record.

The 2010 team did plant the seeds of future success. Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, and Pedro Alvarez all got tons of playing time for this squad. They were joined by Ryan Doumit and Garrett Jones, making for not a terrible offense. This team had some characters that didn’t always put the team in a great light. Lastings Milledge, Jose 💋 Tabata, and Aki Iwamura all brought baggage. Iwamura was supposed to be the answer at second base, but instead became known more for being a heavy smoker. None did much on field to help the team.

The 2010 team was sunk far deeper because of the pitching. Ross Ohlendorf went 1-11, but his 4.07 ERA was the only thing resembling respectable from the starting rotation. Every other starter had an ERA of 4.90 or worse, including Charlie Morton’s whopping 7.57 ERA. The top five starters’ combined recorded was 23-63. That is truly horrifying.

This team had some future players, but received no guidance from one of the franchise’s most inept managers, John Russell. The running joke was that Russell usually looked like he was napping in the dugout. His team put many fans to sleep as well.

2020

The current roster is right up there with the three teams mentioned above—and some that weren’t mentioned—for horribleness.

Two things come to mind when I look at yesterday’s starting lineup.

First, how bad is the lineup when a gentleman by the name of Phillip Evans is starting and hitting fifth? Has anyone ever heard of this guy? Next, why is new manager Derek Shelton using a Sunday lineup—albeit on a Sunday—in a 60 game season. Who needs a day off? Even though none are hitting well yet, Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds, and Gregory Polanco can’t all be on the bench at the same time.

Having said those things, the fact of the matter is this roster is brutal. That lineup above has four guys that wouldn’t ever start for anyone else(Evans, Tucker, Gonzalez, Heredia), two that may be able to start occasionally for Miami or Baltimore(Osuna, Stallings), and a guy who at might be a number four starter(Brault).

Colin Moran is off to a hot start, but is a mediocre major leaguer at best. Bell, Reynolds, and Kevin Newman give the best hope for production, but none are off to blazing starts. Bell is severely limited, while Reynolds and Newman could have sophomore slumps. The pitching staff doesn’t have a top end starter among the bunch, and the bullpen, well…

It isn’t just the lack of talent that makes this team so frustrating. They have numerous players that just shouldn’t be on a major league roster. Maybe worse than that is there seems to be very few, if any, prospects ready to take those roster spots. Finally, Shelton has started his managerial career by running the team like it is little league. He seems to have some type of rotation for playing time. Another start for Erik Gonzalez may send what’s left of the fanbase off the closest cliff.

The Worst?

All of the teams mentioned were awful in their own right. By the end of this truncated season we may look back and say this is the worst Pirates team in the last 40 years. The manager seems challenged. The talent is completely void. No help is waiting in the wings. They don’t even play fundamentally sound baseball. A popular hashtag on Twitter is #EmbraceTheTank, eluding to the Pirates tanking to get top draft pick. If true, they sure have put together the roster to do it.

Still aren’t sure?

Go back up and look once more at the lineup that was run out there Sunday. Have you seen a lineup that bad?

They are playing baseball. The Pirates stink. Yep, life seems normal again.

Two Cent Takes

Baseball

~Pirates fans better get used to the Tampa Bay way. Derek Shelton learned under Rocco Baldelli, who perfected the analytical approach to managing in Tampa before moving on to manage the Minnesota Twins. Shelton seems committed to the process.

~The virus has everyone crazy, and you can add MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to the list. One day after threatening Tony Clark, union president, with a shutdown if players didn’t do a better job of avoiding the virus, Manfred announced they would play through regardless.

~Personal accountability has never been more important. Baseball doesn’t have a bubble like the NHL and NBA, so players must be vigilant on their own time. Maybe the Marlins situation was a wake up call to the entire league. Pirates player rep Jameson Taillon agrees.

~Watching games with no fans still doesn’t bother me. I’m focused on the field. I’m still not on board with the extra innings rule placing a runner on second to start the inning. I like teams having limited time to challenge a play. I hate the universal DH.

~The Phillies had a bad series to open the season, then had an entire week wiped out due to the virus. It will be really hard for them to make up ground with so many make up games to squeeze in.

~Baseball is a game of repetition, and players had far less time to prepare for this shortened season. Consequently play remains pretty sloppy through ten games.

~Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Kelly was suspended 8 games for throwing at two Houston Astros and making some faces and comments at the Astros after a strikeout. The Astros, found guilty of cheating, had nobody suspended for any games. Expect more incidents like what happened last Tuesday. Kelly, America’s new favorite player, seems unfazed.

NHL

~On paper the Pittsburgh Penguins had the easiest play in series versus the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal was bad during the regular season and just barely squeezed into the tournament. Almost five months off may have changed the makeup of teams. The Canadiens won game one of the best of five series. The Pens showed some deficiencies, including Connor Sheary. Sheary missed badly on a penalty shot and generally messes up the Sidney Crosby line. It helped that Canadiens goalie, Carey Price, was brilliant. The Pens will still win the series.

~The NHL video productions done to support frontline workers and social justice movements were on point and very well done.

NBA

~The NBA is back, as well, after five months. Some things don’t change. First…

Which led to…

Joel Embiid is really good at basketball. Shake Milton not so much. However, you have to wonder if Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Bret Brown have any chance at a championship together.

NFL

~Players opting out, like in MLB, could change the landscape in the NFL if and when they get their season going.

~The Steelers made an under the radar signing last week by bringing in Wendell Smallwood. That could potentially end Jaylen Samuel’s stint in Pittsburgh. Samuel doesn’t do anything particularly well, and if Smallwood still has anything left could be an upgrade.

~As Ben Roethlisberger lost weight, across the state Carson Wentz gained weight. Staying healthy has been an issue for Wentz and he hopes the added muscle will help. A healthy Wentz is big for the Eagles. Now if he can find some receivers to throw to.

PGA

~This week’s Bryson DeChambeau update finds him arguing with a course official over—wait for it—ants.

I think those shoes would scare away ants anyway.

~This is what it looks like when DeChambeau hits a golf ball.

That is pretty cool. But we still hate you, Bryson.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

This weekend word started oozing out of the Pacific Northwest, the San Francisco Bay, LA, and the Arizona desert. That word was players—up to 400–were going to opt out of the upcoming college football season if the NCAA and PAC 12 Conference did not meet the demands they set forth. Those demands ranged from Covid-19 safety concerns to concerns over racial and social equality.

Here is the letter from the players.

The demand to distribute 50% of conference revenue among the athletes is ridiculous, and certainly a stretch to think anyone would agree to such a thing. I must say the other demands seem reasonable and acceptable.

The NCAA has been a corrupt, money grubbing organization for a long time. Mark Emmert has proven to be completely incompetent. The Power Five conferences are nearly as bad. They formed these current “power conferences” knowing schools would  jump in because they didn’t want to miss out on the money grab.

Now we have extra travel expenses in all sports because West Virginia, for example, has to go to Austin, TX, Norman, OK, Stillwater, OK, Lawrence, KN, just to name a few. As I mentioned in previous weeks, non-revenue sports should play a regional schedule. These conference formations make that next to impossible.

As stated in their demands, players called out universities for excessive spending, including facility upgrades which I also mentioned previously. They are adamant that no sports should be cut, citing many universities endowment money that could be used for funding. I’m not sure how much that amounts to at every school, but I do know this. No school should have to cut sports if football isn’t played this year. That is a complete sham.

The amount of tuition, donations—yes, endowments too—and fundraising each of these schools takes in should be enough to cover non-revenue sports for one year.  That would require universities to pay attention to their expenditures. Again, we hope this would only be for one year.

Who knows what will come of this? Word from a Washington St. parent is that players are having scholarships dropped for opting out, citing that it sends a negative message.

It could get ugly.

The players may back down.

Whatever happens, the corrupt NCAA, overpaid commissioners like Larry Scott, and all the fat cats involved have been put on notice by a group of young athletes who have found their voice.

That noise you hear in Indianapolis is the biting of fingernails coming from Mark Emmert’s office.

Just my two cents…