No Money, No Leadership, No Hope: What Do You Do? An Article For the Fans
We all hate the New York Yankees. And it's not only because they're killing competitive balance in baseball (that's a joke, people) but because they always, always have money to spend on the best free agents.
As the most storied franchise in professional sports, they have instant name recognition. Their logo brings to mind the Death Star from Star Wars (cue the ominous music.) Everyone knows about them, but this article is not about them. This article is about the teams that can't compete with the Yankees or the Patriots.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently the most hapless franchise in sports. For EIGHTEEN YEARS, except for the 1997 season, they've never been in contention. (I'm counting this year, by the way.)
They've been trimmed by ownership that won't spend money, players that are traded as soon as they're any good (hi there, Jason Bay, Craig Wilson, Brian Giles, etc, etc) and fans that hated Three Rivers Stadium (which I completely understand, baseball has been about 3,000 percent better since they got rid of the cookie-cutter stadiums.)
The Pirates opened PNC Park, a beautiful but often-empty stadium, in 2001. Why is it often empty? Because baseball is a cyclical sport: What you do this year will affect what you can or will do next year. For years, Cam Bonifay, and then Dave Littlefield, were under orders to sign veterans who were way over the hill and were grateful to take what they could get, and didn't pay much attention to developing young players.
Littlefield committed one of the most grievous sins, which I do appreciate because it benefited my team, when he dealt Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs for Bobby Hill. Littlefield also drafted badly throughout his tenure, with the 2002 draft standing out as the most egregious example, taking Bryan Bullington with the first overall pick despite having the ability to choose from a talent pool that featured Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, and Nick Swisher. Yes, THAT Nick Swisher.
Fans have stopped attending many Pirate games because the constant losses and overall culture defeat the purpose. When you attend a game, you want to see your team win. If your team has no chance to win, why go see them?
Pirate fans are actually used to this: Long before the "We Are Family" Pirates, and even before the Mazeroski Pirates defeated the mighty Yankee machine in the 1960 World Series, the only reason to go see the Branch Rickey Pirates at beautiful Forbes Field was Ralph Kiner. There are numerous references to fans leaving after Kiner's final at-bat, even if Kiner's final at-bat was in the bottom of the eighth. But should they be used to it?
Since Walter O'Malley and Horace Stoneham moved the Dodgers and Giants, respectively, owners are the most blamed people in the history of sports, and baseball in particular, for anything that goes wrong. Even the omnipresent George Steinbrenner, for my money if not the best owner in the history of professional sports, then at least the most committed, has been booed repeatedly, blamed for things such as Reggie Jackson's departure to California and never winning a thing in the 80's. (Late 80's, anyway.)
The way owners are viewed by fans is symbolized by a quote during contract talks between hall of famer Joe Medwick and Cardinal owner Sam Breadon. Breadon said, "Why should I pay you $2,000? I'd rather throw my money out a window." Medwick replied, "Mr.Breadon, if you threw $2,000 out the window, you'd still be holding on to it when it hit the sidewalk."
Al Davis was once the savior of the AFL, as the owner of the Oakland Raiders, who symbolized AFL football, and as it's commissioner, who believed he could defeat the NFL if given the opportunity. Since he took over the ownership of the NFL's version of the Raiders, the Silver-and-Black have seen the highest highs such as their nice run during the seventies and eighties to the current incarnation: a horrendously bad team run by a senile, egotistical old man.
Now, on the one hand you could say this team has had success. So instead of completing my entry with the Raiders, I turn to the "new" Cleveland Browns.
The "return" of the Cleveland Browns was greeted by hosannas and expectations. They had an owner who was willing to spend money, and both a natural rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a blood feud with the Baltimore Ravens, the original Cleveland Browns. Fans should pack the stadium, right?
Their first season, they went 2-14. To make matters worse, they were clubbed repeatedly at home, not winning a single game .
Their following seasons haven't been much better, with the exception of the 2002 season and the possible exception of the 2007 season. Cleveland also has a notoriously bad training staff that has cost players precious playing time because of their inability to fix staph infections.
What do you do, Browns and Pirates fans? You can stop going to the games, and I support fully your right to, but what do you do? Do you stop watching or even caring about the team?
I'd ask the same question of the NBA fans, but the NBA is an entirely different culture. One player can change everything. (Larry Bird and Magic Johnson being prime examples.) Also, the NBA has more playoff teams, and every team except the Bobcats put in a playoff appearance in the previous decade. (I'm counting the Thunder as the Supersonics, by the way.)
That can't be said for anyone in baseball: last decade the Rays were the only team not named the Yankees or the Red Sox to win the AL East. That's TEN seasons with five teams.
I realize that MLB 2K5 wasn't exactly a great baseball game, but one of their revolutionary options in the endless franchise mode was the ability to give everyone the same $150 million team salary. So, everyone gets an equal opportunity to win, unlike the reality, where not only does everyone NOT get the opportunity to win, but population density and income limits influence the decisions made. Such as wasting the top draft pick on a "No. 3 starter" because you can afford him, not because he's any good.
What do you do when ownership cares more about saving money and lining their own pockets than putting a decent product on the field? (Which I'm not saying is always the case, sometimes it's just overall bad luck and inability.) Can you make your voice heard simply by not buying tickets and going to see a product you know isn't going to improve anytime soon?
Again, we all despise the Yankees. But maybe, just maybe, they have the right idea.
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