Colin Dunlap: Pirates Goal Should Simply Be Above .500
The Pirates’ clear cut and exclusive objective in this 2013 season should be to win more games than they lose.
Finish above .500.
Such a finish hasn’t been accomplished since 1992 when the club went 96-66, and finishing with more wins than losses during this 2013 march through the summer should be the chief and solitary focus as the season readies to start.
You can say such an approach is the mentality of a loser.
And, by extension, you could be calling me a loser — which I’m perfectly fine with.
I’m called much worse routinely; give a listen to 93-7 The Fan nightly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and you will see what I mean.
Nonetheless, back to the Pirates.
The sentiment here is that the Pirates would do well to flatly and categorically come right out and exclaim that going 82-80 would be an overwhelming success. Because, in truth and from this vantage, it would be. It would be a bang-up job.
Last week, Pirates owner Bob Nutting — a man fairly criticized on many, many, many occasions — came pretty close to stating .500 as a goal, but then backed off.
To a gathering of media in Bradenton, that included The Fan’s Dan Zangrilli, Nutting said: “At some point we’re going to need to pass through 82 wins. When we do, I will celebrate. But it would be an inappropriate target.”
Half right, Bob, half right.
It’s a hugely appropriate target.
It should be a giant target for this organization right now.
I understand that coming out and stating above .500 as the goal wouldn’t play well with many in the fanbase, a sect of the advertisers or — most important — understand the reality of this work in progress and the fact that this franchise hasn’t won since Alex Cole was on the roster.
This is, truly, a unique situation that could be met with a unique tack.
Here are the facts: When manager Clint Hurdle took over this club before the 2011 season, they were coming off a 105-loss campaign. In his first two seasons, Hurdle has pushed the Pirates to 15 more wins in his first year (72-90) and then 79-83 last season. Talk about the second-half collapses all you like; since Hurdle got here, the Pirates are 22 games better than the day John Russell was fired.
Here’s another fact: From the top on down within the franchise, on just about every occasion that .500 is brought up, people are loath to discuss it as a goal. The front office would rather point to long term plans of pushing toward a National League Central Division title or (gasp) making a run at the World Series.
Those are pipedreams; pipedreams right now.
There’s nothing wrong with big ambitious, nothing wrong with shooting for the stars, but I’m a believer in reality — the chase to .500 is a reality; the run at the World Series isn’t.
And there’s also nothing wrong, at least from this view, of scaling back those pipedreams to reality and saying, “our goal this year is to be above .500.”
Some would say that’s the mentality of a loser and Nutting and the management team would get vilified for it; conversely, they would get soundly applauded for their candor from me.
Listen, I’m a Pittsburgher, I’ve sat through all the losing.
Since Sid Bream slid across home plate on an Autumn night in Georgia, I’ve watched many of the 1,796 losses (89.8 on average per season) the Pirates have trudged through — yes, it has been that many.
Watched guys like John Hope, Steve Cooke and T.J. Beam try to get people out when there was, truly, no hope. Nothing was cooking and Steely McBeam had a better chance of fanning someone.
I’ve been there for the Scott Bullett and Andy Tomberlin at-bats when they didn’t stand a chance and have seen, with these eyes, Keith Osik attempt to catch far too many Sunday and get-away day games.
In the same 2001 season at PNC Park, I saw Ryan Volgesong pitch for the Pirates before he got good somewhere else, Chad Hermansen never getting good and Derek Bell abandoning ship for his own personal pleasure craft.
Remember Jose Parra, Brian O’Connor, Steve Sparks, Ramon Morel and Dennis Konuszewski? If you do, your stomach is stronger than mine.
Along the way in those 20 years of losing, I’ve also seen John Russell pretend as if he were excited a few times, Brian Bixler pretend as if he belonged at shortstop a few times and Jimmy Barthmaier pretend as if he really deserved three starts at the big league level.
Just before the 2010 season, Nutting told the Post-Gazette, when asked what a successful season would entail:
“Honestly, I won’t be satisfied with any season until we win a championship. Incremental improvement might be encouraging at some level, but, in terms of what’s satisfactory … I’ll be pleased with a championship season.”
On cue, the Pirates then went out and went 57-105 that season.
Mentioning a championship before that season was a farce. A total farce.
While the club has made strides since then, the championship talk should remain far off in the distance.
Again, I deal in reality — and I’m more than fine with the Pirates going 82-80 this season.
More to the point, I’m more than fine with them coming out and saying that’s their aim.
After all the losing, we all should be.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10p-2a on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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