Going into play on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a tie for second place in their division, just one game behind the Brewers.

The last time the Pirates wrapped up a winning season, I was starting my senior year of high school.  The year was 1992.  George Bush (the elder) was president.  Jeffrey Dahmer had recently been sent away to prison, the original Dream Team was romping to victory in Barcelona,  and Hurricane Andrew had just smashed into Florida.  In other words, it has been a long time.

The fall of the Pirates has been due in large part to running the team on the cheap – pocketing revenue sharing money from teams like the Yankees and Red Sox without any attempt to use the money to field a competitive team.  The modus operandi for the Pirates has been to trade away talented players before they become too expensive to hang onto, and to sacrifice quality for affordability in their top draft picks.  For a team with a championship history – the team of Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, and Roberto Clemente – it’s a sad state of affairs.

The Pirates hired Clint Hurdle as their manager in the off-eason.  Hurdle had struggled through several losing season with the Rockies before breaking through and winning the pennant with the 2007 club.  He was fired after a terrible start in 2009 and replaced with Jim Tracy – who led a dramatic turnaround that led the Rockies back to the playoffs.  The irony?  Tracy was fired by the Pirates in 2007 after a failed stint with the team – and the Pirates managerial job is now held by the man who was fired in Colorado to make room for Tracy!  Although I do think the firing of Hurdle was justified (things had just run their course), I do have respect for him as a manager, and am pleased to see him doing well.

There are a lot of “feel-good” stories with Pittsburgh.  Joel Hanrahan (an Iowa kid) was beginning to run out of opportunities before being installed as the closer in Pittsburgh.  Hanrahan is 26 for 26 in save opportunities with a 1.34 ERA.  Jeff Karstens has shaved nearly 2 runs off his career ERA and stands at 2.55.  Kevin Correia posted a 5.40 ERA last year for San Diego – even with the benefit of an extremely pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  This year, he’s making a run at a 20 win season, standing at 11-6 with a 3.74 ERA (he has decisions in 17 of his 18 starts, which is nothing short of amazing). (Note: all stats are through Thursday).  I’m nominating Correia as my dark horse candidate for the Cy Young award.  If he manages to win 20 games – for the PIRATES – how can you fail to give him the award?

Around the diamond

Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup after his stint on the DL and once again is closing in on 3000 hits (if he had a two hit game after we went to the presses Friday night, then he’s already reached the milestone). 

It’s often noted that Jeter will be the first Yankee to reach 3000 hits.  This is interesting, but it really doesn’t add anything to the accomplishment.  Would Jeter’s achievement be diminished if he played for a team which already had some guys with 3000 hits in their career (the Pirates, for example)?  Of course not.  Neither, then, does the fact that he’ll be the first Yankee with 3000 hits add to the accomplishment.  If anything, it points out a bit of an oddity in baseball.  With all the superstars that have worn pinstripes, you’d think at least one of them would have racked up 3000 hits for the Yankees.  Had he stayed healthy, Lou Gehrig surely would have joined the 3000 hit club 70 years ago.  In recent decades, the Yankees have tended to acquire stars rather than develop them – and it’s almost impossible to have 3000 hits for a team unless you play nearly your entire career with them.

Albert Pujols returned to the Cardinals lineup on Wednesday night – a month ahead of schedule.  I discussed the issue with a friend of my who is a huge Cardinals fan.  He was in agreement that it would have made more sense to shut Pujols down until after the All Star break to make completely sure he’s healthy.  The benefit from a few extra games before the break isn’t worth the risk of aggravating the injury by trying to come back too early.  However, I’ll assume that the medical staff for the team knows that they are doing.

The All Star game is on Tuesday.  I absolutely love the All Star game.  I’m not much of a fan of the home run derby (too artificial) but love seeing the biggest stars in the game in the field.  I definitely agree with the sportswriters who would like to see the rosters trimmed a bit – and also agree that not every single player needs to get into the game.

Go National League!

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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