Growing up, the Pittsburgh Pirates were really good. They were always good and they were in the playoffs. Besides Barry Bonds who was the anchor of the teams, his notable teammates also included Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, Jeff King, Al Martin, Tim Wakefield, and Doug Drabek.
I remember the 1992 playoffs for example when the Pirates who should have went to the World Series to face the Toronto Blue Jays, lost in seven games to the Atlanta Braves. I was a Bonds fan and while I couldn't afford a Barry Bonds bat, I had his name written on an old plastic bat in black marker to show my affiliation.
One of the particular playoff games, Bonds hit a home run and the Pirates went up 8-0 on the Braves. My dad, always one to like a winner, was going crazy watching the game on the couch. I remember getting up mad saying "You only like them because they are good" as I left the room.
While I wasn't a Braves fan, I respected them and they had a similarly young and exciting team to the 2008 Rays and I wanted a long series which at that point didn't look to have the makings.
Bonds defects to the Giants
After the 1992 season however, a very young (and supposedly still clean) Bonds left the first place, and perennial contending Pirates to sign a massive contract with the forth-place San Francisco Giants to supposedly play for the team of his Godfather Willie Mays.
The six-year $43.5 million dollar contract was the richest ever given at the time. It even topped the five-year $36 million dollar contract the irrelevant at the time New York Yankees were offering. Of course, the Pirates, with an entire 1992 payroll of $32.59 million.
Had the Pirates made it to, and won the 1992 World Series would Bonds possibly have stayed thus keeping the power system in check? Likely he was destined for San Francisco but we will never know.
If you want a comparison to what this may be like in contemporary times to how this affected the balance of power, it would be like 29 year old Albert Pujols leaving the St. Louis Cardinals at the prime of his career, to sign with the Washington Nationals similar to when the then-28 year old Bonds defected to the irrelevant Giants.
The Pirates were never heard from again, having endured sixteen consecutive losing seasons as a direct result, and the Giants making the playoffs several times including one World Series appearance in 2002.
It was this reason, this, single-handed franchise-kiling fashion, that to this day, I never forgave Bonds for leaving a young, exciting, and up-and-coming team on the cusp of returning to their past days of glory.
He left for selfish reasons but as we've come to know later, this should hardly be of any surprise. In a conversation I had in high school where I remarked to a classmate how I didn't like Barry Bonds anymore because he left the Pirates" the kid replied (at the time) "Dude, that was like, ten years ago!"
Should a perennial All Star like Pujols actually leave for a team like the lowly Nationals what do you think it would do to the two teams fortunes? The Nationals, with new gate revanue from the deal would have more money to sign future free agents.
Their lineup would obviously instantly get better and more credible, and the trio of Dunn, Pujols, and Zimmerman would be fun to watch for years.
What's more, it would make the Nationals an instant threat in the loaded, but non-spectacular National League East. As for the Cardinals, they'd likely fade into Pirate-like mediocrity at best, even in the much weaker, less attractive National League Central.
In 1993 the following season after Bonds left town the Pirates crashed from 96 victories to 75 followed by 53 during the strike shortened '94 season, 58 and 73 the next two seasons. Basically they never recovered and this once proud franchise was never the same.
Nate McLouth trade
Last week, the Pirates were shafted once again by a shrewed-on-the-surface, unnecessary deal when a 27 year old former All-Star was traded in the wake of a three year contract he just signed in spring training. While McLouth is certainly no Bonds and never will be, his impact and popularity cannot be denied on a team lacking mainstream names.
However, before you continue to criticize the deal as just another salary-move by the excuse making Pirates, consider the last two major trades the club made.
At the trade deadline last year Pittsburgh trades similarly young outfielder Jason Bay who was under team control through the end of this year for a very affordable four-year/$18 million contract. They weren't winning anything with him, so why not ship him as part of the more publicized Manny to L.A. deal?
I talked to a Pirates major league scout shortly after the trade and asked him "if he had anything to do with the Jason Bay trade" and he said "I'd like to think I did"and I told him I thought it was a nice little deal and hoped it worked out well for them since they need help and he agreed.
The McLouth trade allowed the Pirates to promote their super phenom in Andrew McCutchen who so far looks to be the real deal and much needed. However, if they are smart they'd lock up the do-it-all center field to an Evan Longoria-like deal before he gets too expensive or shipped out of town similar to McLouth.
Like GM Huntington said, the players the team received from the Braves were mentioned in the rumored Jake Peavy dealwhich would have landed him in Atlanta. At worst this deal provides more organizational depth that is always barren and with Karstens and Ohlendorf doing okay there is no rush for any of the players involved unlike years past.
Turning the Corner
August 1, 2008 Jason Bay trade
Moss, is a more than serviceable outfielder I've always liked, who at the very least provides excellent depth to a team that desperately (and always needs it). He's a gritty kid who gives it his all 100% of the time like an Aaron Rowand-type player.
Andy LaRoche, has been the biggest surprise, providing better than expected defence while giving the team its best third baseman since Aramis Ramirez. (Freddy Sanchez switched positions).
While he doesn't have power, he should get 75-80 RBIs if healthy and he's only 25 and being the brother of teammate Adam LaRoche helps keep him in town its all the better.
Best of all, he provides time for last year's No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alverez to stay in the minors and fully develop instead of being rushed based on need and lack of depth that plagues all too many small market teams.
Hansen has been the most disappointing of the three having posted a 5.68 ERA to date. Yet, he's still only 25 himself and while with the Red Sox showed flashes of promise while being a high draft pick.
Should he be able to get his stuff together, he provides good depth to a position that needs it in the bullpen where you can never have too much and where the Bucs never have enough.
July 26, 2008 Xavier Nady trade
Nady was a young but overrated outfielder who seemed to be having a career year with the always fledgling Bucs. A former journeyman with the Mets and Pirates before, Nady was shipped to the New York Yankees for four players.
Then-minor league pitchers Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, prized but raw outfielder Jose Tabata, and Dan "dont call me Andrew" McCutchen. The latter can only hope to have the promise the former seems to show.
Ohlendorf and Karsens were both smartly made starters where each shows signs of promise in finally upgrading a depleted and patchwork pitching staff. The 26 yaer old Ohlendorf is currently 5-5 with a 4.82 ERA while Karstens is 3-4 but only 26 as well leaving room for growth and improvement.
At 28-32 the Pirates are showing signs of having a decent season for the first time since 1999 when they finished 78-83. Lets hope we get to see them play it out and see if good things come and they can turn the corner they so deserve. It appears they are on the right track and I remain cautiously optimistic.