Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Farm Team

Way back when I was wearing the New York Times uniform, I had a one-on-one conversation with the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was telling me about his impossible problems: shrinking revenues in a market hemmed in by geography and population declining within it. The message was the struggle to keep the Pirates competitive. It was kind of shocking at the time, because it was 1980, and the Pirates were the reining World Champions.

But the Pirates had their last competitive team in 1991, when Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke patrolled the outfield, and they came within one out of winning the pennant. All three were soon gone, and the Pirates haven't been a first division team since.

In recent years they've been notable mostly for supplying contenders with star players, and this season they've outdone themselves, capping it all by trading away their last two good players in one day: today.

Not just good to great players, but fan favorites. When I was in Pittsburgh in June, the Pirates were so desperate to get people to games that they expanded their free-game-on-your-birthday promotion to include anybody who has a birthday all year. "Basically if you've been born, you can get a ticket," the TV announcer explained.

Now just why the Pirates can't compete in the same city that is home to the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the World Champion Pittsburgh Penguins is something more subtle minds will have to explain. All I know is that the suggestion I made almost a decade ago--that the Pirates stop pretending, and just officially become a minor league team--is coming true, although the pretense is still there. After all, most of their players now are minor leaguers, and they are clearly a farm team for competitive teams in the Major Leagues.

Maybe they should concentrate on food and drink (they do seem to be doing that) and putting on a good show in that great new ball park, maybe have a ticket lottery with the winner announced during the seventh inning stretch, and a live band on the field between innings. A Ferris Wheel in the outfield and a tractor pull in the parking lot. While playing other farm teams.

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