By Harv Aronson
Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and 1980s, as a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, I remember being able to name infields and outfields of nearly every team in Major League Baseball.
The names of players just rolled off my tongue because of the simple fact that back then, teams kept the same rosters year after year after year. Would anyone be able to do that today? Probably not just because free agency has allowed players to switch teams on a yearly basis. Money talks they say and with so much money being thrown at players in this era, it doesn’t make sense to them to play for the love of the game, rather they go for the gold…the big dollars.
During the 1970s and 80’s, to this day I can still recall what position players played for who on a lot of teams. Take for example the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ron Cey at third, Bill Russell at short, Davey Lopes at second, and Steve Garvey at first base. Steve Yeager was the catcher.
Rivals of the Dodgers were the Cincinnati Reds and their “Big Red Machine.” Pete Rose led the way with a solid group of guys like Dave Concepcion, Cesar Geronimo, Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan with his chicken wing warmup ritual at the plate. These players stuck together for years and made up some of the best teams ever.
In the American League, the Yankees are a team that has stayed in power for so many years and in the era that I grew up, I was fortunate to watch Reggie Jackson play alongside Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Lou Piniella, Mickey Rivers, and Willie Randolph. One of the Yanks biggest rivals are the Baltimore Orioles who back then fielded one of the best defensive units from first to third to catcher in the league.
Diehard baseball fans know who manned the hot corner for the O’s, probably the greatest defensive third baseman in the history of the majors, Brooks Robinson. His big teammate on the opposite corner was Boog Powell. Light hitting but superb defensive shortstop was Mark Belanger. Bobby Grich was the second baseman.
When my Pittsburgh Pirates played Baltimore in the World Series of 1971, the Orioles had an incredible outfield made up of Don Buford, Paul Blair, and the great Frank Robinson. But it was the steady pitching staff of the Orioles that garnered much attention. Do you think a pitching staff could ever have four players winning 20 games? It happened in 1971 when Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar (20), Pat Dobson (20), Jim Palmer (20), and Dave McNally (21) turned the trick. Yet, the team lost to Pittsburgh in the fall classic.
For Pittsburgh, they had a repetitive lineup of Al Oliver in center, Dave Parker who took over in right field when Roberto Clemente lost his life, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and Dave Cash at second base, Gene Alley and Jackie Hernandez sharing the shortstop duties while Richie Hebner and Jose Pagan did the same at third. The always happy and always smiling Manny Sanguillen was behind the plate.
Even the Chicago Cubs who just could not get to the playoffs kept bringing back the same team in the 1970s that featured Rick Monday in centerfield with the golden glover Don Kessinger at short with Steve Swisher catching the pitchers. Andre Thornton was the dangerous hitting first baseman and Jose Cardenal protected the outfield in left.
The Philadelphia Phillies used to battle the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League East division crown and the Phils did it by sending essentially the same lineup to the field year after year. The power hitting Mike Schmidt teamed with Greg Luzinski to send balls flying out of the park. Larry Bowa provided defense in the middle of the infield and Dick Allen was a solid singles hitter at the plate. Steve Carlton was the ace on the mound with his intimidating pitching style.
Then there are those colorful Oakland A’s who dominated the mid 70s with players sporting all types of facial hair and length. This is where the great Reggie Jackson began his career and he was joined by the like of Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Bill North, Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue and who can forget the handlebar mustache of Rollie Fingers, one of the greatest relief pitchers in history. To this day at age 71, Fingers is still wearing that infamous mustache.
So there you have just a handful of Major League Baseball teams that 30-40 years ago began each season with players on the roster that had been teammates for a long time. Continuity was the rule of the day not just in baseball but in other sports as well. You can thank former St. Louis Cardinal Curt Flood for setting the groundwork for free agency with his lawsuit against the league in 1969 as he challenged the league’s reserve clause charging it violated antitrust laws and his 13th amendment rights. Flood had been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, a transaction he did not want. His stance was that he should be entitled to entertain contract offers from other teams before accepting the trade.
Flood lost his case but in 1975 the ruling was overturned and an arbitrator named Peter Seitz ruled that MLB players had the right to become a free agent after just one year of playing for their current team when they didn’t have a contract. The ruling was amended a year later to allow any player with six years of experience under his belt to become a free agent once their contract expired. The end result is the mish mash of changing rosters we see every year with nary a player staying put for the love of his team or city.
By Harv Aronson
Over on my NFL page, I recently presented the original nine draft picks when the National Football League held its first ever collegiate draft in 1936. Now, let’s turn the attention to Major League Baseball and their same process.
MLB held its first amateur draft in 1965. It came nearly 30 years later than the NFL’s first selection process. But unlike the National Football League, Major League Baseball has way more rounds that take place. In fact, MLB goes through 40 rounds to select prospects in comparison to the NFL where over three days they have seven rounds. The National Hockey League also uses just seven rounds and the National Basketball Association is at the bottom with just two annual drafting rounds.
So, in 1965 with the very first pick eve, the Oakland A’s drafted a young man from Arizona State University that turned out to be quite a good player in the bigs. That player and the remaining 20 other picks follow with a short summary of each man drafted.
1. Oakland A’s, Rick Monday-Outfield (Arizona State University)
Like Jay Berwanger in the NFL, Rick Monday holds the distinction of being the first ever draftee in Major League Baseball’s selection process. Berwanger never played a down of professional football but Rick Monday had a long and storied career. It didn’t take Monday long to rise to the majors from the minors. When he was drafted, the Athletics were still in Kansas City, two years from moving to Oakland. Monday made his debut one year after he was drafted and played in 17 games for the A’s in 1966 at the young age of just 20.
While he only batted .098, his average would improve 153 points a season later when he began to play on a regular basis. Essentially what was his rookie campaign in 1967, Monday hit .251 with 14 home runs and knocked in 58 more runs. By the time he retired in 1984, he had played for the A’s Cubs, and the Dodgers finishing his 19 year career with 1,619 hits and a respectable .264 batting average. His teams made it into the playoffs nine times and the he was a member of the 1981 World Series winning Los Angeles Dodgers. On the field, Rick Monday played all three outfield positions and parts of six seasons he covered first base.
Perhaps Rick Monday’s most recognized distinction especially for the older generation like myself, is the incident that took place on April 26, 1976. It happened at Dodger Stadium and two men protesting the United States ran to left-center field while Monday was out there and attempted to set an American flag on fire. The two culprits never succeeded as Monday rushed to the rescue of the American icon known as the Stars & Stripes. Monday took the flag away and presented it to L.A. pitcher Doug Rau.
The two men were William Thomas and his son that was 11 years old at the time. Thomas was arrested and charged with trespassing but only got probation. An inning late in the fifth, Monday had his turn at the plate and received a standing ovation. On the stadium’s message board flashed the words “Rick Monday…You made a great play.” When asked about the incident, Monday responded with:
“If you're going to burn the flag, don't do it around me. I've been to too many veterans' hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it.”
Rick Monday was in the ROTC at Arizona State thus the pride in what he did and on August 25, 2008, he was given a flag that had been flying over Valley Forge National Historical Park. To this day, Monday still has that same flag he rescued. He is not about to give it up even despite offers of upwards to $1 million for it.
2. New York Mets, Les Rohr-Pitcher (Billings West HS, Montana)
What a tough act to follow for Les Rohr coming immediately after the first overall selection of Rick Monday. A big 6’5”, 205 pound lefty pitcher, Rohr took two years to make it to the majors right out of high school. Rohr was actually born in Lowestoft, England and in his rookie season of 1967, he started three games, pitched 17 innings, and won two of three decisions. He would last just two more seasons with New York before he exited baseball.
3. Washington Senators, Joe Coleman-Pitcher (Natick High School, Massachusetts)
Before our nation’s capital lost the Senators, they drafted Joe Coleman with the third overall pick of the 1965 draft. Just as Rick Monday had accomplished, Coleman went directly into Major League Baseball out of high school make is debut at the age of 18 in 1965. In 15 years on the mound for Washington, the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Coleman would win 20 games twice with a career high 23-15 record in 1973 while with Detroit. He also won 19 games in 1972. From 1968 to 1975, Joe Coleman would rack up wins in double digits all but 1970 when he had a losing record of 8-12. Beginning in 1971, he would win 20, then followed it up with 19, 23, 14, and 10 victories.
4. Houston Astros, Alex Barrett-Shortstop (Atwater High School, California)
Unfortunately for the Astros, they failed to find talent with their first ever pick in the draft. Barrett rose to the AAA level of the minor leagues but never made it to the majors and finally quit after seven seasons in the minors. His batting average of .209 in A through AAA leagues just could not get him to the bigs. Having made 251 errors in 3,466 chances also did not help Barrett make the majors.
5. Boston Red Sox, Billy Conigliaro-Outfield (Swampscott High School, Massachusetts)
Some of you old timers may remember the name Conigliaro but probably because you are thinking of the one named Tony. That would be Billy’s older brother and for those of you who remember Tony Conigliaro, then you probably remember when he got beaned by the California Angels’ Jack Hamilton that put the elder Conigliaro in the hospital for an extended stay.
For the younger Billy Conigliaro, his career was not a long one, just five seasons in the majors playing with his older brother in Boston and then for the Milwaukee Brewers when they were in the American League before calling it quits and hanging up the spikes after one season with the Oakland A’s in 1973. Tragically, Tony Conigliaro never reached the age of 50 passing on after being in a coma but Billy at age 70 today carries on the stories of two baseball careers that once were.
6. Chicago Cubs, Rick James-Pitcher (Coffee High School, Alabama)
No not the infamous funk singer but the baseball player Rick James was drafted by the Cubbies with the sixth overall pick in 1965’s draft. The Cubs would call up the young man when he was 19 in 1967 and his debut was awful. In 4 2/3 innings of work, James surrendered seven earned runs including a home run and two walks. With that his Major League Baseball career was over.
7. Cleveland Indians, Ray Fosse-Catcher (Marion High School, Illinois)
As I noted Rick Monday showed his American pride while playing baseball, Ray Fosse will be remembered when discussing his career for one single baseball play. It was the 1970 All-Star Game and the great Pete Rose was on base and on a hit from Jim Hickman, Rose rounded third base for the winning run but Ray Fosse was guarding the plate and with no chance to slide around him, Rose crashed into Fosse with such force it separated his shoulder and put him out of baseball for an extended time.
Fosse would return the next season and finished a 12 year career in 1979 with the Milwaukee Brewers. At the time of the collision with Pete Rose, he was playing for the Cleveland Indians. Mostly a defensive catcher and platoon player, Ray Fosse still hit .256 for his career with his best season coming in that same season that Rose had altered. At the end of that campaign, Fosse had played in 120 games, hit 18 home runs, compiled 61 RBIs, and had 138 hits.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers, John Wyatt-SS (Bakersfield High School, California)
Next in the draft selection was Wyatt a shortstop from California and like many others, skipped college to play baseball with the hope of making the major leagues. He never made it there and in fact, good luck finding any history on this player on the internet because I found none. However, it was the L.A. Dodgers who would go on in 1965 and win the World Series by defeating the Minnesota Twins.
9. Minnesota Twins, Eddie Leon-Shortstop (University of Arizona)
Interesting that right after the Dodgers, the eventual Fall Classic losers would be picking next. So the Twins drafted the second collegiate player taken in the first ever draft and he also came from the state of Arizona. Leon would not make the majors until 1968 when he became property of the Cleveland Indians. Leon would manage to stay in the big leagues until 1975 when he played in one game for the New York Yankees before calling it a career. A journeyman infielder, Leon would play at short, second, third, and had one at bat as a Designated Hitter.
10. Pittsburgh Pirates, Wayne Dickerson-Outfield (Ensley High School, Alabama)
Next in line were my Pittsburgh Pirates and they went to the outfield to draft Dickerson. Dickerson never made it out of the minors and never reached a level higher than single A baseball. He lasted five seasons in the minors, one of which was in the rookie league.
11. California Angels, Jim Spencer-First base (Andover High School, Maryland)
The inaugural baseball draft was actually a pretty successful one with the previously aforementioned players and now Jim Spencer. Spencer played 15 Major League seasons as a first baseman, outfielder, and Designated Hitter. Spencer was only a .250 lifetime hitter but he did earn two Gold Glove awards and was named to the 1973 All Star team. His entire career was in the American League with California, Texas, Chicago, New York, and Oakland. On the diamond he committed just 55 errors in 10,750 chances at all positions he played.
12. Milwaukee Braves, Dick Grant-First Base (Watertown High School, Massachusetts)
Just as the luck the Pirates had with their first pick, the Braves faired no better. Grant never made it to their MLB team and spent his entire seven years in the minors.
13. Detroit Tigers, Gene Lamont-Catcher (Hiawatha High School, Illinois)
Pittsburgh Pirates fans will remember Gene Lamont as a third base coach for the Bucs in the mid 1980s. But his professional baseball career began as a player and as a Detroit Tiger. His playing days were short, five years total and only 87 games. But his coaching career that began in 1986 has been much longer and to this day he is still in the dugout, now with the Detroit Tigers.
14. San Francisco Giants, Al Gallagher-Third base (Santa Clara University, California)
Playing the hot corner, Gallagher was known around baseball circles as “Dirty Al” and was a minor league manager from 1995 through the 2007 season. He managed the Bend Bandits, Kansas City T-Bones, and the St. Joseph Blacksnakes. Gallagher and the San Francisco Giants were a step away from the World Series in 1971 only to lose to the eventual champions, the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS. In that series , Gallagher came to the plate 10 times and managed just one single. He played just four major league seasons all with the Giants except his final year as a player in California playing for the Angels.
15. Baltimore Orioles, Scott McDonald-Pitcher (Marquette High School, Washington)
Scott McDonald was a pitcher in high school but turned into a first baseman in the minor leagues. Perhaps the reason was because McDonald’s overall ERA in two minor league seasons on the mound was 5.05. At the plate, he was not much better, hitting .268 in six seasons, never getting past AA ball.
16. Cincinnati Reds, Bernie Carbo-Third base (Livonia High School, Michigan)
An interesting twist to Bernie Carbo’s 12 year Major League Baseball career is that while he debuted with the team that drafted him in 1969, he would meet his former club in the 1975 World Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox. That World Series is considered by many as the greatest ever.
In that classic confrontation between the Red Sox and Reds which was won by “The Big Red Machine,” Carbo his .429 in the seven games, playing in four of them. He hit two home runs against the victorious Reds, and added a double and four RBIs. But similar to the Dock Ellis story when that pitcher played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Carbo has admitted to being under the influence of a narcotic during games. Back in 2010, the Boston Globe was conducting an interview with the former player and he admitted this:
“I probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers, got to the ballpark, took some amphetamines, took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco, had a cigarette, and got up to the plate and hit. I played every game high. I was addicted to anything you could possibly be addicted to. I played the outfield sometimes where it looked like the stars were falling from the sky. I threw away my career. If I knew Jesus Christ was my savior at 17, I would have been one heck of a ballplayer, a near Hall of Famer. Instead, I wanted to die.”
Yikes. Dock Ellis had admitted that the no hitter he threw during his career was done while he was using LSD. Still, Carbo lasted 12 years in the big leagues playing for six different teams but when he was done in 1980, he was just 33 years of age. These days, he claims to be a born again Christian and is now 70. The Boston Red Sox honored him by placing him in their Hall of Fame.
17. Chicago White Sox, Ken Plesha-Catcher, Notre Dame University, Indiana)
With Plesha, the ChiSox got a player like several teams before them that just didn’t pan out as a success nor make it to the big league team. Plesha spent three years in the minors and was done. He also never made it past single A baseball. That is probably due to his .186 average over the three seasons he played.
18. Philadelphia Phillies, Mike Adamson-P, (Point Loma High School, California)
Another draftee, another failed MLB career. Adamson and his 7.46 ERA while pitching in 25 1/3 innings for the Baltimore Orioles indicating the young pitcher was released by his original team, was proof in the pudding that he just didn’t have it.
19. New York Yankees, Bill Burbach-Pitcher (Wahlert High School, Wisconsin)
Because Major League Baseball’s inaugural draft was modeled after the NFL’s version where the worst team picks first and the previous year’s World Series team picks last, with two selections remaining, the 1965 World Series losing Yankees were picking just before the champion St. Louis Cardinals. With their 19th pick overall they chose Bill Burbach, a right handed pitcher directly from his high school in Dickeyville, Wisconsin, Wahlert High School. Burbach did not get the call to the majors until 1969 where in his rookie season he posted a record of 6-8. Two years later he was done having pitched in just 20 innings over the next two seasons.
20. St. Louis Cardinals, Joe DiFabio, Pitcher (Delta State University, Mississippi)
Finally concluding the first ever draft were the Cardinals and reigning World Series champs. Like many before him, the majors were not in his future. After seven long seasons in the minors, DiFabio called it quits realizing his dream was not happening. DiFabio put together some pretty strong performances in the minors rising to the AAA level, but St. Louis never called him up. He had a respectable 3.28 ERA in those seven seasons, three in Triple A and four in Double A. DiFabio had seasonal records of 11-5, 11-3, and 13-6 but obviously it was not good enough.
So how hard is it to make it in Major League Baseball? Just go back through this list of 20 men who became the very first picks in MLB's debut of the amateur draft and see how many made it. It's a tough haul to the majors.
By Harv Aronson
So here we go again. Coming off a second straight losing season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will enter 2018 for the first time in years without Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.
Two seasons ago, it was a 78-83 finish and 25 games behind the Chicago Cubs who eventually won the World Series. Last year, the Buccos won three less games and the Cubs repeated as Central Division champions 17 games ahead of Pittsburgh. Many Pirates fans are disgusted and angered by the trades of Cole and ‘Cutch and believe this will be a down year for Pittsburgh and a third straight campaign without a post-season appearance.
Chicago will be strong again and added another big weapon when they obtained the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish. So it’s inconceivable that Pittsburgh can topple the Cubbies let alone get past St. Louis and Milwaukee both of which finished eight and 11 games ahead of the Bucs respectively.
But how bad will the Pirates be? Sure, losing a resurgent McCutchen and a solid Cole will hurt the lineup and pitching staff, but there are still quality players entering the season. On the mound, there will be some new faces. Kyle Crick comes to Pittsburgh from San Francisco where last season he pitched in 32.1 innings and posted an ERA of 3.06. He struck out 28 and walked 17 in his time on the mound. He also only surrendered two home runs.
From the world champion Astros in exchange for Gerrit Cole, Michael Feliz becomes a Pirates and brings with him an ugly 5.63 ERA in 48 innings of work in 2017. Still, he posted a winning record of 4-2. Much was expected of Daniel Hudson in 2017 when he came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks where in 2011 he was 16-12. But Hudson may have been the biggest disappointment last season when he finished 207 with a 4.38 ERA. If he can regain form this season it will be huge.
Another pitcher from Houston joining the Bucs is Joe Musgrove who’s stats my not be pretty but his strikeouts-to-walks ratio is solid (98-to-28). His won/loss record for the World Series champs was 7-8 last season so the Pirates are hoping for better numbers. A New York Met joins the staff in Josh Smoker who had 56.1 innings of work last year but had just three decisions with a 1-2 record. Smoker’s ERA was not smoking either at 5.11.
Finally there is Nik Turley, a Minnesota Twin last season who received very little work pitching just 17.2 innings and giving up 22 earned runs in the process. OUCH. These new faces will join forces with the veterans of the staff, the more promising players like Felipe Rivero, Edgar Santana, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, and Tyler Glasnow.
Pittsburgh is solid at the catcher position with Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz set to do most of the battery work. Last year’s rookie sensation Josh Bell returns at first base and despite mention trade, Josh Harrison returns with David Freese and Jordy Mercer. Max Moroff has plenty of potential and Jose Osuna, and Colin Moran round out the infield.
It will certainly be odd not to see Andrew McCutchen in centerfield for the first time since 2009 so replacing him will probably be Starling Marte. Gregory Polanco is in right field, and left field will be platooned between Adam Frazier and Sean Rodriguez. Available as well is Christopher Bostick, Jordan Luplow, and Austin Meadows.
Clint Hurdle returns again as manager his eighth at the helm. Throughout history, the Pirates have had 39 different managers since a pro team came to the ‘Burgh in 1882. For Hurdle, this is his 43rd season in the majors either as a player, coach, or manager. It seems like yesterday that I remember Clint Hurdle on the cover of Sports Illustrated as they believed him to be the next great player in baseball.
Did you know that the Pirates were called the “Alleghenys” before becoming the Pirates? So 2018 will be the 136th season in Pirates history. A little more trivia to end this preview. Since 1882, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys/Pirates have won 10,319 games and lost 10,146. That’s an overall winning percentage of .504. First place has come 16 times for the Buccos. 23 times Pittsburgh has finished runner-up either in the National League before divisions were created or in their respective division. This might surprise you but in 135 seasons, the Pirates finished last just 18 times.
So where will the Pittsburgh Pirates finish in 2018? Certainly you would think they will be better than the Cincinnati Reds who lost 94 games a season ago. St. Louis always brings a talented team to the field and they will definitely seek to improve on their 83 wins from 2017 and the Milwaukee Brewers flirted with first place last season and finished just six games back from Chicago.
For the Pirates, Clint Hurdle, and the front office, they would most like to at least be competitive and prove to the fans that they are NOT in a rebuilding stage rather made the trades they did so they can improve on 2017 and try to get above .500 again. A World Series competitor this team is not, but a threat to other teams, I believe they are.
By Harv Aronson
We all now know that Andrew McCutchen is an ex-Pittsburgh Pirate and he will be wearing the uniform of the San Francisco Giants in 2018.
'Cutch as we have come to know him as, will be sorely missed as he was a fan favorite and at Buccos games, you would see SO many #22 jerseys in the stands. If you think McCutchen is going to be another Barry Bonds and leave the city and the team and turn his back on the city where his career was establised, think again.
'Cutch has written and publishing the following letter to the city of Pittsburgh and Pirates fans as you can view the original letter and its accompanying photos on this site:
Here's the letter:
Thank You, Pittsburgh
Andrew McCutchen, Outfielder / San Francisco Giants - The Players' Tribune
I forgot to say goodbye.
It’s always funny, how you picture something happening in your head, versus how it happens in real life. In my head, I pictured myself savoring every moment of my last game as a Pirate: This is my last time making that drive to the ballpark, as I’d come up on Sixth Street, by the Clemente Bridge, like a thousand times before. This is my last time putting on that black and yellow, as I’d fix up in the clubhouse mirror and make sure my hat looked just right. This is my last time poking my head out of that dugout … stepping into that batter’s box … swinging that bat … hitting that ball … running those bases…. for the only fans I’ve ever known.
This is my last time being a Pittsburgh Pirate. In your head, you think you’ll savor it, all of it, and really make it count. But the truth is — when the time comes, and it happens for real? It won’t even be on your mind.
That’s the truth: It never actually sank in to me that September 27th, a Wednesday night game against the Orioles, might be my last home game ever as a Pirate. I’m sure that’s hard to believe for some people, with all of the trade talk that had been going on last season — but I guess that’s just how I dealt with it, you know? There had been so much talk, for so long … so many questions and rumors … that I think my only way of coping with it all was to block it out entirely. To say — You know what? That’s it. I’m a Pirate. And until the day that someone tells me different, man … being a Pirate is all I’m going to worry about.
So when our last game of the season at PNC came around, I was really just treating it like any other night. Got to the park. Put on that number 22 jersey. Warmed up. Stretched out. Took BP. Played the field in the top of the first. And in the bottom, when they called my name — poked my head out of the home dugout, same as always, and stepped into the batter’s box.
They just got out of their seats, and stood up, and started cheering for me like crazy. I’m telling you — like crazy. I mean, I’ve gotten cheered loudly before … but this was out of that world, and into another. Like — Baltimore’s pitcher had to step off the rubber, it was so crazy. And at first, I was just thinking, you know, Alright — last home game of the season, fans are a little hype, they’re showing their appreciation for me, that’s humbling. But then it just kept … going. And going, and going. It kept going until there was nothing that I could do but tip my cap. Until there was nothing left for me but to acknowledge it, and embrace it. And for a moment, even — savor it.
It’s hard to explain, the relationship that you can develop with a city and its fans over the course of a career. But you get to this point where, I swear, it’s like you can almost … read each other’s minds. You get to this point where, at any given moment, the city will know how you’re feeling, and you’ll know how it’s feeling right back. Where it’s feeding off of your play, and you’re feeding off of its noise, and then around again.
And I swear, man, on that night … it’s like they just knew. It’s like somehow those fans in PNC knew that I was too focused on baseball — too focused on treating it like any other game — to savor the moment on my own. Knew that I was too focused on still being a Pirate to have the ending that I’d imagined I would.
They gave me the thank you that, now, I’m ready to give them. People keep asking me for the inside story about the trade — but here’s the actual story: I found out about it in pretty much the same way as everyone else.
My wife, Maria, and I had just put the baby down for a nap — it’s a team effort, let me tell you, getting that boy to go to sleep. And so by the time Steel was napping, it had already been a while since either of us had checked our phones. But when I finally checked mine … well, there it was: A bunch of missed calls, a bunch of texts — and a news alert about how, The Pirates are set to trade Andrew McCutchen to the Giants.
Man, wow. OK. I got on the phone with Neal Huntington, our GM, and he told me that the trade actually wasn’t set in stone yet. And credit to Neal — he’s always treated me well over the years, and this was no exception. Most GMs, they’re not going to give you any sort of a heads-up or courtesy call about a transaction. They’re not going to call you until the deal is done. But Neal, you know, he was all class. And he made me feel like I was still a guy the Pirates cared about, even as they were giving me up.
About an hour later, Neal called back to tell me that the trade had officially gone through. I can’t even explain what a wild feeling that was, and still is. It’s like, one minute I was just hanging out … and my biggest worry was if my son would fall asleep for his afternoon nap. And then the next, it was like, my life as I knew it wouldn’t ever be the same.
I know I’m a luckier guy than most. I know that 13 years with an organization — that’s one heck of a run. And when my career is finally over, I’m sure I’ll look back on those 13 years and think to myself, you know, Man … that was impressive. That was something to be proud of. That was a pretty special thing. But right now? It’s just too hard to go there, too hard to get to that place. Right now, honestly, it just stings a little.
Right now … I’m just thinking about the Derek Jeters, and the Cal Ripkens, the guys I grew up admiring the most in baseball — and how much I’ve always wanted to be like them. How much I always wanted to be my own version of them, for this franchise … for this city. It’s almost like this word association thing: New York … Jeter. Baltimore … Ripken. You know what I mean? Those guys earned the right, earned that honor, of being synonymous with their cities — because those cities were the only places they ever called home. And I always wanted to be that guy for Pittsburgh.
So it just stings a little, now, to know that’s not in the cards for me. That was the first thing that crossed my mind after the phone call with Neal — how I’d thought I might’ve had a chance, a real chance, to wear only one cap for all my baseball life. And now I’m going to wear another one. I thought about so many different things, in so many different ways, when I first got traded.
I thought about the end of my time with the Pirates … and took stock of the person I’ve turned into: a team leader, a young veteran, an MVP, a husband, a dad. I also thought about the beginning of my time here … and reflected on the person I was at the start: this kid who barely knew what he was doing — but knew he wanted to win.
I thought about the highs and the lows, the successes and failures. I thought about that very first season, when I got called up, and our goal was, Let’s not lose 100. (We lost 99.) I thought about that 2012 season, when we entered the All-Star break in first, and got a taste of what these fans could be like if we ever gave them a winner.
I thought about 2013, when everything, finally, came together, with a wild-card win over the Reds — the first winning season and playoff berth here in 21 years. I thought about 2015, when we won 98 games and anything seemed possible — until we ran into a good, young Cubs team, and suddenly it wasn’t. And you know what — I even thought about these last couple years, when we haven’t been winning as much … but have still been fighting, still been grinding, still been making sure that every Pirate fan gets to watch a group that’s giving it their best.
I thought about the small-picture stuff, the logistics, like finding a house … a barbershop … a few places to eat. (Giants fans, y’all got recs? Hit me up on Twitter, I need’em — @TheCUTCH22. I’m a boring eater, but I’m loyal.)
I thought about my manager, Clint Hurdle, who’s been more than just a manager — who will always be my friend and mentor, both on and off the field. Who said, in our first meeting together, that there were two things he wanted me to know the answer to: One … Can you trust me? And two … Do I care about you? And who made sure — whether we were on pace to win 95 games or 75 — that the answers to those two questions always were yes.
I thought about the personal stuff, like my family: From my wife (we met in Pittsburgh), to my son (he was born in Pittsburgh) — and how this trade is going to impact not just my life, but their lives, too.
And I thought about the emotional stuff, all of those strong feelings that rush to the surface when you experience something new: Sadness, at leaving my original baseball family. Relief, at having moved past that awkward period — where I felt like both the face of a franchise and a walking trade rumor, all at once. And even fear — as a 31 year old who has only worked for one company his entire adult life, and now is about to move to another company, and start all over.
When I first got traded, man … I thought about all of those things. But then I also thought: Who am I? Don’t get me wrong — I know who I am. But I guess I mean, more like … who am I now?
Because in my mind, for the rest of my life, I don’t think I’ll ever not be Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirate. For me, that’s been more than just a job title. That’s been a part — a core part — of my identity, for so long. And it’s an identity that I feel on a level so much deeper than just, like, “Who’s he play for?” Being a Pirate, that’s been a part of who I am since I was drafted — all the way back in 2005. From an 18-year-old kid, trying to make the team and fit in … to a 30-year-old man, trying to get the team over that championship hump….
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirate has just been who I am.
But at the same time: Andrew McCutchen, San Francisco Giant? I’m EXCITED about that. That’s not me doing p.r. for anyone. That’s just … genuine and real. I’m excited for this journey. Like — anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not just a baseball player. I’m also a fan. And any fan — anyone who loves and follows this game? You’ve been watching what the Giants have been doing for the last decade … in awe. This is an organization that is all about winning talent, and all about winning culture. And that’s what I’m about, too. So to say this is a good fit … it’s an understatement, man. For me to get traded to San Francisco — the fit is perfect.
And I guess that’s where those mixed emotions come from, at first. After something like this happens … it’s just so much information, in so many directions. You’ve got these memories of the past, and these ideas about the future — all passing through you at once. You’re thinking about who you’ve been … but also who you’re about to become. And you care about both of those things, deeply. It all means so much to you.
And so I think that’s where your mind goes, at first — just on instinct. Who am I? Am I Pittsburgh? Am I San Francisco? Am I a Pirate? Am I a Giant? Am I the MVP who knows what it takes? Am I the new guy who has a lot to figure out? Am I … any of those things? But then it hit me.
Man — I’m all of those things.
Of course I am. Because this trade that I’m a part of … it’s just a trade. It’s just a trade. It’s not an eraser to my time as a Pirate, and it’s definitely not a goodbye to the city of Pittsburgh. My time playing for this team … it doesn’t go away, just because I’m about to go play for another. And my time living in this city — man, I don’t even have to finish that sentence. I’m not even leaving!! Come on, guys. I’m never leaving Pittsburgh. Maybe when I’m 100, they’ll drag my butt back down to Florida, snowbird-style … but until then? We’ve got a beautiful house here, and we plan on using it. Pittsburgh … it’s home. It will always be home.
So I might be shipping out for the season — and I might be excited about this new beginning — but I’m not leaving. And I might be closing the door on this stage of my life … but it’s a glass door, I promise. I’m going to look back through it, fondly and often. And I’m going to walk back through it, when the time is right. This team will always mean a lot to me. And this city will always mean everything.
But just like I was too focused for a big goodbye, during that game in September — I’ve gotta be honest: I’m worried that I’m gonna be too focused for a big hello, when I come to town with the Giants in May. I’m worried that I’ll be doing the same as I always do: treating it like any other game. And that I’ll forget to do the one thing, in that moment, that would mean the most to me out of everything. I’ll forget to savor it. So I’m gonna need you all to have my back again, Pirate fans.
If you see me, say hey — and maybe throw a “Cutch!” in if you’re in the mood. I’ll be the guy who looks familiar, walking around like he knows the place — with a few fresh tears, and a big ol’ smile. With San Francisco on his shirt. And Pittsburgh in his heart.
ANDREW MCCUTCHEN / SENIOR EDITOR