In 2007, I was at PirateFest, the annual caravan that serves as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ way to thank the fans. I talked to a journalist about the team and if they were any closer to breaking .500.
In this 30 minute conversation, the journalist included a remark that I will never forget.
“Major League Baseball doesn’t care about the Pirates.”
Fast forward seven years later and retiring MLB commissioner Bud Selig is visiting PNC Park as part of his stadium tour. What he ended up seeing was not what he could have hoped.
From the beginning to the end, Selig had to know that this visit was going to be a disaster. First of all, he finally had to give the Pirates credit. Before, the Pirates were a largely unknown team and as a small market, baseball did not pay much attention to them but rather the Yankees, who had players sign individual contracts for more than Pittsburgh’s total payroll.
National media did not care, the fans did not care, and as a result neither did baseball.
That changed last season when the Pirates started to win and not only made the playoffs, but won the NL wild card game in front of an electric crowd. Now, Selig and baseball could not dismiss the Pirates as doormats anymore and the focus was no longer just on Andrew McCutchen.
“I’ll be honest, last year I got goosebumps,” Selig said of the Pirates run.
This year, the Pirates are focused more in baseball marketing, national media and fans all around the world. Now Pirate jerseys are much more frequent when the team is on the road.
Selig now has to suck it up and realize that the Pirates have taken some attention away from the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and other large market teams. He must have hated to make that flight to Pittsburgh and admit the Pirates’ success and act as though it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Listen I get it, Selig comes off as looking great for having another small market team succeeding, however from a corporate perspective, Selig historically has been against the Pirates based on his actions.
This is ironic considering he saved the Milwaukee Brewers from moving away during his time as team owner and president. The Brewers are also considered a small market team so it is a bit surprising that Selig seemed to turn his back on the Pirates like the rest of the public until they succeeded.
One quote that stuck out from Selig’s press conference prior to Tuesday’s game against the Dodgers was when he said that baseball was, “as good as it’s ever been.” Based upon Tuesday’s game I would highly disagree.
Pressure had to be on the umpires to perform well and they completely failed Selig. The strike zone was inconsistent, not to mention the Pirates challenged two calls in the game and won both. Not only did they win the challenges, but they were not even close. You would not need replay to figure out that the Pirates had won the challenge and the call would be reversed.
Furthermore, home plate umpire Toby Basner completely lost control of the game by handling various situations the wrong way. Looking at the umpire media guide, Basner is listed as a call-up umpire which means he only makes an umpiring crew if there is an injury or illness.
According to the MLB website, he joined Crew A for this trip which has crew chief and 16-year veteran Jeff Nelson, 15-year veteran Laz Diaz, 14-year veteran Mark Carlson and five-year veteran Scott Berry. Berry was not on this trip so Basner, who has been a minor-league umpire since 2004, joined the staff.
As Selig watched from a suite, McCutchen was hit by a pitch and then Clint Hurdle a half inning later put Justin Wilson in. Wilson attempted to hit Justin Turner and just missed on the first pitch and connected on the second. Basner immediately ejected Wilson from the game and Nelson tossed Hurdle.
Wilson seemed indifferent about the ejection as he was being a good teammate. Hurdle was upset and with good cause, because the benches were not warned prior to Wilson’s ejection, which came out of nowhere. Maybe if Wilson hit Turner on the first pitch he would have stayed in the game but we will never know for sure.
Selig watched the rookie umpire finally warn both benches, but when Jamey Wright hit Russell Martin with an off-speed pitch squarely in the back he did nothing. His reasoning likely was that it was off-speed, but as far as I am concerned, that is poor reasoning.
Yes, the umpire has the authority to keep a pitcher in, however when a pitcher “loses” an off-speed pitch and it connects onto a batter’s back, that makes it pretty obvious. If that was not enough all you had to do was look into the dugout and spot Dodgers manager Don Mattingly‘s sneer.
Instead of a clean baseball game, which the Pirates could have played in protest if they were losing or lost, Selig got a front row seat to witness just about everything that is wrong with baseball. At least there was not a home-plate collision, imagine what Basner would have done there.
In the end, some things never change, actions speak louder than words. MLB still does not care about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lesson learned.