One of my recent tweets: “Adam Graves and the New York Rangers should die of gonorrhea and rot in Hell. Want a cookie, son?”
Seriously? I can’t give up a grudge against Adam Graves (and by extension a New York Rangers franchise that hasn’t done anything meaningful since 1994) based on a cheapshot in the 1992 NHL playoffs? #$%^ no!! The Penguins won the Stanley Cup that year despite Graves’ hit on Lemieux and it’s even possible that the hit galvanised the team and propelled it to those heights. You’re damn right I’m not letting go of my hatred.
And that gets me to thinking about the nature and origins of sports hatred.
It’s pretty common knowledge among my friends that I despise the Cleveland Browns. It’s just the way Pittsburghers are raised. But truth be told, the Browns don’t really deserve to be hated. They haven’t been a true threat since a brief window in the early 1990′s. The cRavens are our real rival nowadays and a worthy one at that.
But I remember that brief, annoying period when the Browns rose up; when Vinny Testaverde was considered a threat to our AFC Central supremacy and the addition of the combustible Andre Rison served to put the Browns (the Browns!) as a chic pic to get to the Superbowl. And so I remember what it’s like to hate the Browns fo’ realz and I hold on to that hatred and nurture it and let it fester and boil.
My mom once told me that for all my hatred, I would probably end up with a girl from Cleveland. What a cruel fate to foresee for her son! Formative years those 1990′s were for Maher’s sports consciousness. I hated Mark Brunell and the Jacksonville Jaguars for a time. I even remember hating the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves for beating my Pirates in the NLCS. Do you remember when Steve Avery was good? I f*ckin’ remember! I’d root for the Yankees over the Braves, damnit!
Now don’t get me wrong. I do hate the Ravens. Arrogant, showboating f*cks all of them! But damn, they’re good. And most of them probably already have gonorrhea anyway.
It’s interesting to see how current rivalries are shaping the sports consciousnesses of Pittsburgh’s youngsters. The Ravens may even win a Superbowl but all teams go through down cycles. Just ask the 1970′s Raiders, the 1980′s Oilers, the 1990′s Browns and Jaguars, etc. And rivalries are generally established of shared excellence not mediocrity.
But those who grew up knowing that raw, raging emotion will forever hold the Ravens in ill-regard. They will remember.
Which brings me back to Adam Graves and the New York Rangers. I f*ckin’ hate the Rangers. No, I mega-loathe them. You see, when I was coming up during Mario Lemieux’s Stanley Cup runs, the Rangers were a primary threat to us. The Flyers were pretty mediocre and though people of good conscience must always hate the Flyers in principle, they didn’t get me worked up that much. They do now but it doesn’t have the force of history, at least for me.
And so 20+ years later, 10-year old Maher still demands even more justice! Yesssss… Adam Graves and the New York Rangers should die of gonorrhea and rot in Hell.
… which is probably quite similar to Cleveland during football season. [steeples fingers malevolently]
The Devil in the details, so to speak, was a clause that Pittsburgh’s teams would also suffer mind-numbing, spirit-crushing losses as well. Caveat emptor, after all. Pittsburghers can recall these losses pretty well today, I think, so I won’t detail them here. When asked why this proviso was called The Cabrera Factor, the Devil simply grinned and walked away.
I have a question for all the Pittsburgh Pirates fans who have gone apoplectic during this most recent roster purge – what else do you want? What alternative are you looking for?
Even with the most productive outfield in baseball last season including a surprising campaign from Nate McLouth, even with a recent batting champion in Freddy Sanchez and a rock solid defensive shortstop in Jack Wilson, the Pirates went 67-95. Prior to the start of this fire sale, there were two possible courses of action – keep the batting lineup intact and try to build the pitching up quickly through free agency. Or tear it all down. Completely.
I don’t understand how we as fans can get attached to any players on a team that pretty much stunk anyway. I do have my doubts as to owner Bob Nutting’s commitment to winning but I think that critique is separate from a critique of the plan, which is the same as any small-market franchise must undertake. Build up the farm system, draft solid, develop prospects. Sure we’ve heard this song and dance before but what’s the alternative?
Barring abandoning the team, a Pirates fan has no choice but to stomach another rebuilding job. It’s sickening that we have to endure another one; that all the others have been so unsuccessful. However, I don’t believe that voting disapproval with one’s wallet is an effective strategy. With a decrease in ticket sales and thus less revenue, ownership would simply lower payroll even further and still pocket profits from revenue sharing.
I’m not willing to declare any belief that this particular rebuilding plan will work when all the others haven’t worked. But it’s still the right way to go about business. Tear down the half-assed incarnation of the last rebuilding job, build organizational depth, develop players. And with all the recent criticism (however deserved) and declarations from fans that the franchise doesn’t deserve our support, I find myself becoming somewhat defiant.
Someday, we will all bear witness to the rebirth of one of the great franchises in Major League Baseball. Remember where you were and what attitude you took during this trying time. LET’S GO BUCS!
Photo Credit: AP
The Pittsburgh Pirates have completed a huge purge of the vast majority of their roster since Neal Huntington took over leadership of the franchise a few years ago. They’ve traded a large number of serviceable major leaguers including the likes of Jason Bay, Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson.
All these trades have provoked a huge amount of outrage among the Pirates’ fanbase. (Yes, there still is a fanbase). I think most fans would have preferred to keep that lineup largely intact and then perhaps raise the bar on the pitching staff by going after some free agents. Wishful thinking. Free agents wouldn’t want to come to the Pirates right now.
The alternative is to develop great pitching. But by the time the pitching could catch up, the offense would have started to go down. It’s a half-assed approach. You either spend more to bring the pitching staff up to par quickly, which won’t happen, or you tear it all down. In almost all the recent trades, Pirates GM Neal Huntington has gone after pitching, pitching and more pitching.
The Pirates went 67-95 playing a large part of the last season with the most productive outfield in baseball. There was solid, if unspectacular play, from the likes of Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez. But whither the pitching.
Now I have my doubts as to whether Pirates owner Bob Nutting will pony up the money to keep a developing team together if recent drafts and trades start to pan out as we all hope. But the plan itself is solid. Some fans may have been content for the team to make a run at .500 this year, which may have been doable with the collection of players that came out of spring training. But in the City of Champions, we cannot accept anything less than a team that wants to win titles. We don’t do Loveable Losers.
As the Pittsburgh Pirates purge their roster for the umpteenth time in the past 16+ years, I’m reminded of the little-noted failure by the MLBPA of its membership. A trade union, by definition, is supposed to use collective bargaining with management for the overall betterment of its membership. The MLBPA has lost sight of the fact that this collective bargaining should not be strictly limited to wage increases.
In any given year, there are 4-6 teams with a realistic shot at winning a title. Minnows, through careful scouting and not a little bit of luck, will occasionally pop up in the ranks to disturb the big boys. But if you knew little of baseball, it wouldn’t be totally unreasonable to assume that in a given year, the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Mets and Braves will be the main contenders.
You can switch a name or two here and there but, in general, this leaves 24 out of 30 teams that, for all their fuss and bluster, don’t have a shot to contend. This is the nature of sports and I won’t dispute that. But it’s also partly a result of the revenue/salary structure of modern baseball.
In leagues with a tight salary cap/luxury tax, such as the NFL, NHL or NBA, well-managed teams can contend year-in, year-out regardless of market status. A small-market team in MLB can contend for maybe 2-3 years out of every 8 years. Build up, torn down by free agency, build up, torn down by free agency. Ask Billy Beane, one of the best GM’s in baseball, how MLB’s cost structure is working out for him.
Let’s look at it from a Union’s viewpoint. Is it better for a Union to seek the highest individual salaries regardless of how those left behind in middling teams fare? Or should a Union seek the greatest possible distribution of salaries among its membership. One player makes $20mil while four players make $3mil. The average is $6.4mil. The median is $3mil. The high outliers skew the average salary.
Furthermore, for every team that can pay $200mil+ for its roster, there will be more teams with salaries around $50-$80mil. The team that can pay $200mil+ will compete year-in, year-out. The teams with $50-$80mil can compete only for a short time before being raided by the $200mil team. And with roster size limits, not everyone can sign with the $200mil team so that money is allocated to only a few players.
In a more egalitarian system, such as the NFL’s, the overall number for salaries will stay the same. But the distribution becomes wider. Yes, it’s called spreading the wealth. But a Union that negotiates distribution in addition to overall number is doing its job. The NFLPA, by agreeing to a salary cap, ensures wider distribution of monies as well as giving a greater percentage of its membership a realistic chance of landing with a team that can build a contender.
A few years ago, MLB designated that the winning team of the All-Star Game would clinch home-field advantage for its League in the World Series. The move is supposed to liven up the game and get the players to care about the outcome. The allegedly heightened circumstances are also supposed to get the fans to care a little more as well. This year, MLB is using the slogan, “this one counts.”
I fail to understand why World Series home-field advantage would matter to poor unlucky schlobs like Freddy Garcia or Zach Duke of the Pirates or whatever token schlomo got in from the Washington Nationals. Unless they’re expecting to be traded to a contender, perhaps. (In the case of Garcia, the answer is no because the Mets aren’t in contention this year).
In the unbalanced world of Major League Baseball, few teams are in real contention by this point of the season, despite any protestations to the contrary. Why should their few representatives really care about handing home-field advantage to an opposing team. It seems to me that since they are already out of contention, Orioles, Athletics, Pirates, Padres or Diamondbacks players and fans wouldn’t be particularly in favor of handing home-field advantage to potentially the Yankees, Angels, Cardinals or Dodgers.
Oh, I’ve heard that the players are putting forth more of an effort since this scheme was adopted but Bug Selig can’t seriously think that it will bring back the level of competition that resulted in Pete Rose crashing into home plate so many years ago. Way to come up with another gem, Bud.
… or why I hate being kicked when I’m down
I’m not much for trash talk. I don’t usually like to rise to the bait. Superstition plays a huge part here because I fear what the sports Gods will do when faced with such presumptuousness. Call me paranoid but when your first full season following a sport ends because of a Francisco Cabrera single, you don’t tend towards overconfidence.
I do recognize the role of trash-talk for both fans and the players. But by and large, players make nice after a game. They shake hands in hockey, basketball, football and soccer even at the end of a hard-fought, bitterly contested game. They may not like each other but they at least attempt to act civil. Fans, however, often keep on talking after the games. (And before anyone tries to say that we have the right to speak as we choose, please SHUT UP. Your right to act like a boor is not in question here).
I think it’s all good and well (and perhaps a little fun) to trash-talk before or even during a game. But afterwards, act like you’ve been there. I’m one of those fans who, for better or worse, takes my sports affiliations way too seriously. I take it personally when my team loses. I can’t even watch Sportscenter for a few days after a big loss to say nothing of having to hear some blathering idiot drone on about the superiority of the foe who vanquished my team. I’ll give them their dues but just let me move on.
Some people place value on kicking others while they are down. I, however, prefer NOT to be kicked when I’m down for the count. In the former stance, the individual(s) in question is, hopefully, thick-skinned enough to take it when the team loses because this behavior defines turnabout as fair play. In the latter stance, you have to act like you’ve been there before regardless of the outcome; be gracious in victory or defeat.
While we all get some morbid satisfaction from the misery of others in defeat, I don’t think there’s any reason to rub it directly in their faces. For me, the greater pleasure is celebrate my team’s achievements with my fellow fanbase.
I’m here in San Francisco visiting a friend. He’s an northeastern transplant and as such, he’s pretty sports-oriented like many northeasterns. He confirmed a suspicion of mine (and many other eastern people) that sports just isn’t as huge a part of the culture here as it is on the right side of the country.
Now there’s no doubt that there are sports-mad people on the left coast but by and large, it seems as though the sporting-life isn’t as integral. He told me that not once during football season did someone give him a call to ask what he was doing for the games on Sunday. I would get email chains on a weekly basis asking what I was doing for the Steelers game, do folks want to meet at a bar or someone’s place to watch, who’s lucky enough to be going to a game, etc.
Some of it has to be climate-affected. During a northeastern winter, what better thing is there to do than escape the cold and watch some sports or go to a movie. But if it’s still nice enough to go for a hike, why not spend Sunday roaming the hills of SF. People go to wine tastings or art galleries or walk around the parks on a nice Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I enjoy those activities in the summer and Oreo loves going to the parks but I’m probably more likely to want to go to a Pirates game at PNC Park on a Sunday afternoon than the average Bay Area citizen is to go to a Giants game.
Please understand that I’m not making a value judgment here. If there’s one thing that annoys me about people who are stridently west coast or east coast, it’s the value judgments they place on their way of life. I don’t give a flying frak if you prefer wine tastings to football or hockey to hiking. I’m just pointing out a difference. Speaking of which, my northeastern friend and I are going to an SF Giants game at AT&T Park today. Go Sports!
By and large, I consider myself to be a fortunate sports fan. My teams generally do well. Two Superbowl titles, 2 Stanley Cups, 7 Sweet Sixteens, 1 Elite Eight, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald, many others. And someday the Pirates will get to .500 and all of Pittsburgh will go nuts.
I think a reasonable standard of expectation for a fan is for one’s teams to be in the hunt, in any given year. Nothing more, nothing less. All the crazies who expect a title every single season can stay in Lexington or Tuscaloosa or the Bronx.
In any given year, I expect that the Steelers will win 10+ games and have a shot at the Superbowl. I expect the Penguins to make the NHL playoffs and have a shot at the Stanley Cup. I expect that Pitt basketball will make the Field of 65 and have a shot to make a run to the Final Four. I expect Liverpool FC to contend for the Premiership, Champions League, and/or FA Cup titles. Eventually, I would like to expect that Pitt football will win 8-9 games in most years and once every few years when the pieces fall into place, they should contend for a national title.
But even with what I believe are reasonable expectations, you inevitably get heart-breaking losses. I don’t have to tell you which loss I’m “mourning” today. I would have to say that Pitt’s loss to Villanova ranks second only to Francisco Cabrera’s single for Atlanta vs the Pirates in the 1992 NLCS. Even the Penguins recovered from David Volek. The Pirates have never recovered from that loss.
Pitt basketball is a strong program and they’ll rebound, rebuild and contend again. I know we had a successful season. I’m proud of how they battled and banged with the big boys. We’ll be back. I expect it.
I want a salary cap and comprehensive revenue sharing in baseball. It’s the only way to ensure a proper competitive balance in the sport. It’s the only hope a small market team, such as my Pirates, have for contending on a regular basis. Every game that the NY Yankees or the Boston Red Sox play make this point even more painfully clear to me.
But the naysayers will point out that other small market teams have contended and even won the World Series. True though that may be, it hides the ugly reality that a well-run small market team (such as the Minnesota Twins or Oakland Athletics, NOT the Pirates) can only compete for a couple years in a given cycle. They will build a team, contend for a time, maybe even reach/win a World Series and then watch as their best and brightest leave for the big money spenders, such as New York, Chicago or Boston. Does anyone remember that Manny Ramirez began his career with the Cleveland Indians? Talk about the model small market franchise. The Indians drafted well, managed their payroll, tried to sign their stars to manageable contracts before their hit arbitration or free agency. They made the World Series and then went kerplunk!
A salary cap does NOT guarantee that every team will contend. But it does provide cost certainty such that any team, big market or small, will have a shot to retain its hard-earned, home-grown talent when the big money comes calling (without having to revert to the Reserve Clause).
In the NFL’s infancy, New York Giants owner Wellington Mara decided to give up what could have become a Yankees’ sized advantage in monies in favor of comprehensive revenue sharing. Later, the NFL adopted a salary cap that gives cost certainty to all teams. Today, Ben Roethlisberger is in the midst of a $102 million contract, Troy Polamalu is one of the highest paid players at his position and a team like the Washington Redskins is spending itself into oblivion. Well-run teams like the big market New York Giants or the medium market Pittsburgh Steelers continue to thrive by building rather than poaching.
If MLB did institute a salary cap, perhaps the Pirates would continue to lose; that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. But I think Wellington Mara would be pleased with the idea that well-run, well-built baseball teams would be afforded the opportunity to prosper for many, many years, not just 2-3 years.