Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bobbleheads and Fireworks, Oh Joy!!!

Well, the fans have spoken. At least the ones who chose to stay in their seats at the Pirate game against the Nationals on last Saturday Night. And with a defining show of unity, that message was: "We care more about bobbleheads and fireworks than whether the Pittsburgh Pirates ever have a winning team. "
This was the night that a fan protest against the management's handling or should I say, mis-handling of the Pirates for lo these 14 and change years was to go down and presumably, send a message to Pirate owners Kevin McClatchy and Bob Nutting that the long suffering fans of the local baseball club had had enough of the usual Pirates PR bullshit, and were demanding change.

It was hoped that at the end of the third inning on Bob Walk Bobblehead Night, that a mass of fans of Exodian proportions would rise out of their seats and march into the concourse of "America's Greatest Ballpark" in a show of populist force.

It was hoped that as a result of this action, the management of the Pirates would see the error of their ways and actually make an honest effort to save the sinking schooner that is the Pirate ship.

It was hoped that the fans will say that they are tired of the usual flack coming from the Bucco front office about how great PNC Park is, and how a day out with the Bucs was a wholesome family experience full to the brim of Americana, motherhood, apple pie and little red wagons, and hold the Pirate brass' feet to the fire and demand accountability as to why this team has not even approached a winning season let alone a .500 one for 14 long years.

That was the hope, but in this case, hope didn't exactly spring forth. Of a crowd of 25,000 plus witnessing the Pirate's 7-2 win over the Nats for only their 18th home win this season against 24 losses, only about a thousand or so left their seats and proceeded to the concourse. The rest of the fans stayed in their seats, reveling in the six run inning that sealed the win for the Pirates and they even booed the protesters for not "staying with the Buccos." The media outlet that had the rights to the Pirate broadcasts, Fox Sports Pittsburgh forbade the announcers from mentioning the protest, and the TV cameras didn't pan to show the protestors leaving the park. Some fans broke their Bobbleheads in protest. There were signs in the outfield proclaiming McClatchy and Nutting as the " Worst MLB Owners", and part of the "Axis of Evil" , but once the owners saw the signs, they ordered security to take the sign down and throw the sign's owners out of the ballpark. Clearly there was an indication of a protest, but not as much as the planners expected.

So what can be said of this? Did the protest succeed or did it fail? Will management take note of what happened, or more importantly, will they act on it? To answer the first question, it all depends on how you define success. If success was defined by having a mass exodus of 5-10,000 fans leaving in utter disgust, then the protest was a flop. But if success was defined by getting the message out that there are a group of disgruntled Pirate fans who are sick and tired of the Same Ol' Buccos and that there may be further expressions of discontent down the road, then the protest was a mild success. The Pirates didn't exactly help the protesters cause by going out to a big early lead in a game they controlled from start to finish. Guaranteed that had the Bucs staked the Nats to a big lead early on, and had made the usual offensive and defensive miscues that have marked this team for years, more fans would have walked out, but it's hard to get in a mood to walk out on a team that scored six runs in one inning and has the crowd eating out of their hands. Also, understand that normally on a Bobblehead night, the usual attendance is more like 30,000 in the ballpark. That only about 25-26,000 showed up could mean that some fans decided that buying a ticket, walking in, and then leaving was a less effective way of showing displeasure than not coming to the game at all. And Bob Nutting did at least acknowledge the passion of the fans who were protesting although it remains to be seen whether he was just paying lip service or meant what he said. I tend to side with the former.

But an even louder message was sent by the fans in the park that night. Apparently, they aren't all that geeked up about whether the Pirates ever see the north side of .500 as long as they can still get their Bobbleheads and Fireworks fix. 25,000 people were happy to sit in their seats, Bobbleheads clutched in their hands, entranced with the beauty of PNC Park, and totally in sync with the whole "night out with the family watching the local nine, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, National Pastime, Son, Let's go out and have a catch" romanticism that still uniquely sets apart baseball from other sports. The sheep just sit there grinning stupidly as McClatchy and Nutting fleece them and pull that same wool over their eyes. It's a lot cheaper to buy a few hundred thousand Bobbleheads and pay Zambelli's for a dozen fireworks displays than it is to overhaul the farm system and go after free agents that are attractive to the club on the basis of talent instead of signability. The Pirates are making money. They get a nice chunk of change from the big market teams as part of the 2002 revenue sharing agreement. They are supposed to use that money to directly improve the team. I'd love to see any evidence of that. They get most if not all of the concessions revenue at PNC Park. Where's that going? You can only buy so many nachos and Super Dogs.

The money is certainly not going into payroll, the Bucs are once again near the bottom of the list when it comes to payroll, only spending about $38 million. They aren't supposed to use revenue sharing money to pay down debt on the ballpark. I have no proof, but I think that the Nuttings and McClatchy are lining their pockets in some way. It's not hard to move money around and "re-purpose" it. And considering that until now, Pirate fans have largely let the owners do what they want with little more than grousing on the Internet The owners of this team are not giving a good faith effort to put a competitive baseball team on the field in Pittsburgh, and finally some of the fans have gotten tired of the whitewashing and are demanding accountability. The taxpayers of the City, and County had two ballparks shoved down their throats by the owners of the Pirates and Steelers in conjunction with their favorite Sugar Daddy "Fast Eddie" Rendell. To their credit, the Steelers have proven that they are deserving of their new digs, but the Pirates have yet to do the same. Bob Nutting says that it is inappropriate to question his family's commitment to winning. Well Bob, I'd agree with you if there was any evidence of such a commitment. You and McClatchy have kept on a general manager that has many more failures than successes to his name in terms of bringing in talent. In any other market, David Littlefield would have been canned after three years of failure. It's too early to pass judgement on Jim Tracy, but I think we can say that it wasn't Legendary Lloyd McClendon's fault that the Pirates stunk during his tenure. I won't rip the players because they are what they are and it's the responsibility of the managers and coaches in the farm system to make sure that their players have a knowledge of the fundamentals and know which players are good enough to move up and which should stay down. The rot starts at the head, and it is there where the Pirates must excise the cancer.

Bob Nutting and Kevin McClatchy won't see this blog posting. Hell, no one even knows this thing exists because I don't promote it. So I don't expect either man to read what I say and act on it. But they cannot be so blind and deaf that cannot see and hear the discontent that is rising from some Pirate fans. There are always those who will be seduced by the Bobbleheads and Fireworks, but there is a growing segment of Pirate fans who are tired of the spin and hype and want to see change, and the best way to get people like McClatchy and Nutting to "get it" is to hit them where it hurts the most...the wallet. No use buying and ticket and leaving after three innings. The owners have your money. Better to not show up at all. Boycott all Pirate games, boycott their sponsors, don't watch or listen to their media outlets. 30,000 empty seats on a Bobblehead or Fireworks night will speak much louder than some dweeb bitching on an Internet blog.