Tough Decision Ahead For Pittsburgh Pirates Fans

Ben SteigerwaltCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2010

HOUSTON - AUGUST 15:  Center fielder Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates can not run down this ground rule double off the bat of Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros in the sixth inning at Minute Maid Park on August 15, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Pirates season ticket holders and game attendees, you’re being robbed.

And I don’t even mean your stockpile of winning spirit.

The Associated Press reports that the Pirates are turning a profit. That’s great news, considering the current economic climate and that Pittsburgh is a small market dominated by football and hockey.

It’s terrible news if you’re a member of the Pirates ownership group.

The problem here is that, according to the report, Pittsburgh is turning that profit by fielding a consistent loser. And as we’ve seen over almost two decades, they’re quite good at it.

In fact, the Pirates have been so terrible since 1992 (their last playoff appearance) that mediocrity would appear to be their ceiling.

If you follow the MLB’s trade deadline news and the off-season hot stove, you’ve seen how the Pirates manage their business. They’re like a yard sale that accepts coupons.

And that business model turns a profit?

Oh, and by the way, fans of teams who do turn a profit: during the years reported (2007 and 2008), the Pirates were paid $30,302,652 and $39,046,312, respectively, in revenue sharing.

So in other words, in those years the Pirates spent less money on player salaries ($20,568,534 in 2007 and $12,993,921 in 2008) than other teams in the league paid them for not selling tickets to watch those players.

Obviously, player salaries aren’t the only expenditure in running a baseball team, but compare the Pirates to the Tampa Bay Rays, who have fielded a championship contender over the last three seasons with a payroll around $70 million (more than double Pittsburgh’s team salary this year).

The Tampa Bay Rays, incidentally, have a fan base made up of whoever can catch the shuttle bus to the stadium from five retirement communities in the area. This compared with Pittsburgh, by all accounts an excellent sports town.

Better yet, compare the Pirates to the San Diego Padres. The Padres have spent $3,266,300 more on payroll than the Pirates this year. For that money, they have the best record in the National League and are 33.5 games ahead of the Pirates in the standings.

So, Pirates fans (the five of you left out there), you have two options here.

You could give Pirates management a five-year window to make good on their alleged commitment to building a winning franchise through their farm system.

Or, you could stop going to games until Pirates ownership ponies up their own cash to do so.

We’ve seen what the Pirates do with your money (and the money paid to them by other teams in the league) and it shouldn’t be encouraging. As they will point out, they are a business with a goal of turning a profit. Compare this to another source of entertainment.

Did you go see “Gigli” in theaters?

As I see it, the only negative consequence of a boycott would be losing the franchise entirely. Based on 2009’s attendance stats, only about 20,000 people a game would be disappointed. Well, the five die-hards in that group would be disappointed anyway.

It's also difficult to believe that the MLB would allow a team that's been in existence since 1882 to leave town.

The positive effects of a boycott, on the other hand, drastically outweigh this negative. Either the current ownership group puts out the cash (and takes a loss for a few years) to create a winner and earn your ticket sales, or it is replaced with an ownership group who will.

Imagine, for example, if Mark Cuban took over.

The alternative to a boycott is to allow the status quo to continue. Your best pitcher’s ERA this year is 4.92. You’re an off-season away from an Andrew McCutchen trade (assuming the Pirates haven’t already put him on waivers as I write this).

And your team is 29.5 games back from the Wild Card with 38 games left to play.

But hey, at least the franchise is profitable.