Thursday, January 29, 2009

I now own a Ryan Vogelsong jersey

Something that's really been draining on my psyche as a fan the last few years: I'm not a season-ticket holder. I go to games when I feel like going to games. I walk up and I buy a $9 ticket, sit in the right field grandstand for an inning or two, then go see one of the ushers I've befriended down in the field boxes. I've been doing this since I was about 14, and I'm 26 now. I go to between 30 and 50 games each year.
There's really nothing stopping me from buying a small season ticket package, apart from that for me, part of the fun of watching a ballgame is the spontaneity deciding to go. Once in a while,
I'll buy tickets in advance, but more often than not, I'm a walk-up buyer, and I've been as devoted to this team as anyone. I know I can't be the only one. The trouble is that, much like when Pittsburgh hosted the last two All-Star Games, once this team does succeed and tickets become a more desired commodity, it's probably going to be people like me who won't be able to get tickets to meaningful games. As a grad student, I've thought about trying to figure out how I could allocate money to buy a partial package, maybe go in on something with friends. But seeing as how I've spent the last few years either as a student or in limbo, always facing the prospect of leaving town for a new job. I guess the point of it all is that I'm worried about being shut out when the rapture comes.
Well, I was perusing the vending station today that contained all of the game-used memorabilia. I'm sure a lot of you saw it -- a nearly complete line of game-worn jerseys with names like "Barthmaier", "Beam", "Whiteside" and "Koonce". And then I found an authentic Jason Bay jersey. Last year's model, home white and non-game-worn for $50. It was the last one -- a great find. And I nearly bought it.
But then, I started thinking about all these years of suffering that we've gone through. I thought about the unwavering, borderline insane support that the most hardcore among us have shown during the absolute worst of times. So I walked up to the girl at the register and asked her, "Do you have any Ryan Vogelsong jerseys?" Without so much as an awkward look or a qualifying question, she went right to the inventory book and found record of one, and said she would go back and check the box. It should be there. Ryan Vogelsong was the key prospect in the trade that sent future Cy Young-winner Jason Schmidt to San Francisco, and in true Bucco form, was as patently awful and disappointing as he could have possibly been. He blew more than his fair share of chances and stuck with the club way longer than he should have before being relegated to mop-up duty and, eventually, sold off to Japan. Ryan Vogelsong: easily one of the five worst pitchers in the history of professional baseball. Ryan Vogelsong: false prophet. Ryan Fucking Vogelsong: I can't imagine another player better embodying the angst I've felt these last 16 years. I hate Ryan Vogelsong. I waited for the clerk for 25 minutes.And when she came back, she did so carrying a 2006 game-used Ryan Vogelsong batting practice jersey. Twenty-five bucks. Best $25 I've spent so far this year. So now, when I walk around PNC Park during the hard times that are sure to continue the next couple of years, and long into the time when I'm relegated to watching post-season games in bars, anyone who sees me will know. I WAS THERE. All those years. I WAS THERE.

It's a Smizmas Miracle!

Just when we thought it was safe to open the Post-Gazette.

Just when we thought that the last round of buy-outs -- which included some rather fantastic journalists like Paul Meyer and Chris Rawson -- had saved us from further exposure to Allegheny County's premiere grumpy old man, Bob Smizik is back. In blog form!

Now, cyber-Smize, complete with a new stylized black-and-gold avatar, will be blogging in perpetuity for the next 1,000 years, thanks to the miracle of timed posts.

He was gone. He took the buy-out, and he was gone. But now, he's back. Just like Jesus!

Let's see what Bob hates about sports today:

The notion out and about, and supported by general manager Neal Huntington, that recently hired pitching coach Joe Kerrigan will be a difference maker for the Pirates in the upcoming season is just another example of the malarkey team officials have been throwing at the fans for the better part of a decade.

I don't know about this, Bob. Joe Kerrigan is kind of a big name. He's got a ton of experience, and he's been with some decent teams before. I think that he at least warrants a shot as the first guy that Neal Huntington has placed in that slot from outside the organization. Personally, I thought Jeff Andrews got a pretty bad rap last year, but the pitching was awful, so Huntington is bringing in his own guy. He's got a pretty good looking resume. Not even going to give him a chance?

If Kerrigan were a difference maker, he wouldn’t be earning a salary in the low six figures, he’d be earning a salary in the low seven figures. If he were a difference maker he would have been a pitching coach last year instead of working in broadcasting because teams would have been pleading for his services.

Maybe he wanted to try something different? These guys take years off. They can afford to because the baseball season is very long and tiring, and because they're so well-paid. It's not like the day after they retire, they're back at work the next morning, trying to fix Zach Duke's mechanics. That'd be as insane as taking a buyout from the newspaper and spending your retirement writing mean-spirited diatribes about how you hate sports.

The truth of the matter is that few, if any, pitching coaches are difference makers, as much as some fans might believe that.

There's really no way of telling one way or another, but it's tough to look at guys like Dave Duncan, Rick Peterson and Leo Mazzone and tell me that they can't be a big help.

The universally acknowledged best pitching coach of the current era is Leo Mazzone, who ran the great Atlanta Braves staff from 1990 through 2005. Mazzone had three probable Hall of Fame pitchers on his staff during those years in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

After the 2005 season Mazzone left the Braves of his own choice to work for the Baltimore Orioles. In two seasons under Mazzone, the Orioles pitching staff finished 29th both times among 30 MLB teams in earned run average. And this after being 23rd the year before Mazzone arrived.

This is not to suggest Mazzone isn’t an excellent pinching coach, It is to suggest it’s a lot easier to be good at your job when you have Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

Does it help to have talent? Absolutely. But keep in mind, Mazzone worked with those guys from very, very early on in their careers, that two of the three (Maddux being the exception) were homegrown in the Atlanta system, and that he had all of their pitchers on a program that involved throwing every day. Also, none of those three ever got hurt. It wasn't until they'd either parted ways with the Braves or Mazzone had left the club that any of those three were ever placed on the disabled list. While it's impossible to determine a factual correlation between the two, there's almost certainly something of substance there. Someone had to be watching over these guys' mechanics pretty steadily.

We’re not suggesting either that Kerrigan isn't a good pitching coach, even if he didn’t work in that capacity for the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons. He’s probably more than competent.

Bob Smizik, as you have known him, is dead. Cyber-Smize consists the columnist formerly known as Bob Smizik, a pair of droids created in his likeness named Smize 1 and Smize 2, and one of a rotating cast of eager, young Post-Gazette interns dispatched to Bob's house once a day to help him with technical support issues, such as turning his monitor on and off, and finding the "z" and "r" keys on the keyboard. So when Bob says "we," that's who he's talking about. And to the point about Kerrigan being "probably more than competent," all I can wonder is that if Bob and one of the two Smizebots agree that Kerrigan is "probably more than competent," then WHAT IN GOD'S NAME ARE THEY COMPLAINING ABOUT??? IF YOU'VE BEEN COMPLAINING FOR THE LAST FIFTEEN EFFING YEARS THAT THEY HAVEN'T HIRED ANYBODY COMPETENT OR GOOD AT BASEBALL AND THIS GUY IS "PROBABLY MORE THAN COMPETENT," WOULD THAT NOT SIGNAL A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?

But he’s not a difference maker.

You infuriate me to no end.

It was around this time last year that Jeff Andrews was being hailed as a difference maker because of the special relationship he had with many of the Pirates young pitchers. Andrews was fired after one season.

He was fired because the pitching did not improve in his first season as a major-league pitching coach. Should he have been fired? Maybe. Regardless, Huntington gave Andrews a fair shot before going out and getting his own guy. That as Huntington was beginning to fire Dave Littlefield's hires and bring in his own, and that in the midst of doing this, Andrews -- hired on Littlefield's watch -- got a promotion, probably says something positive about Andrews and his potential as a pitching coach.

But I'm sure you're right, and that Kerrigan will be a "more than competent" pitching coach, so the pitching will, quite logically, suck this year.

If you go to Smizik's blog today, you'll see that he's actually written a few posts since this one on Kerrigan, and the theme is eerily similar in all of them: Good, but not good enough!

"Is Pitt tall enough?"

DeJuan Blair says he can dunk a basketball, but Bob has his doubts.

"Dermontti Dawson faces another snub"

Dermontti Dawson not good enough for the Hall of Fame? PSSSHAW! The Hall of Fame is not good enough for Dermontti Dawson.

"Is firing Therrien the answer?"

Yes! He's not good enough at making his players less injured and more talented at hockey!

"Luis Gonzalez has not only been a good baseball player for a long time, he’s also been one of the game’s class acts. He was one of those guys who was as good off the field and in the clubhouse as he was on the field."

The headline of this blog post is, of course, "Just Say No to Gonzalez."

"Bowden's record bogus"

He's not as good as Joe Paterno!

I don't want to spoil the rest of the blithering nonsense for you, but be sure that we'll (plural!) be checking back in on The Smize from time to time.

"Is it Spring Yet?" A brief dialogue of hope between two star-crossed bloggers

I miss Pirates' baseball. Is that so wrong?

Yes and no. I mean, I guess it's okay because it's directly compatible with our policy of self-hatred.

I was explaining to my dad that Pirates awfulness is better than Browns awfulness, because with the Pirates, you can go to the game knowing that the players will hear you quite well when you yell "You suck!" Whereas with the Browns there are actually 70,000 some idiots who think there team is worth while, every Sunday.

Anyway... I'm going to see about legally changing my dog's name to Myron.

Okay. Good luck