Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eulogy for Jack Wilson

One day, when the powers that be are ready to close the book on this horrendous, near-two-decades-long binge of suck, you can bet your sweet ass there's going to be a lot of intense and emotional reflection on the part of the die-hard Pirates fans. As if die-hard Pirates fans weren't already emotionally reflecting on pretty much everything, simply as a result of being die-hard Pirates fans...

Anyway, when that book is closed, this is the guy you'll remember. He wasn't the best player, but that never really mattered. Jack Wilson never failed to justify his place in the lineup.

We heard anecdotes for years about the miserable atmosphere in the Pirates' clubhouse. We heard about Brian Giles and Jason Kendall greeting new players with "welcome to hell." We heard about how those two even went out of their way to give Wilson an especially hard time.

If five years ago, you'd said to anyone even remotely in the know that in 2009, the Pirates would still be awful, they'd almost certainly believe you. But if you'd said that they'd be awful, but with pretty remarkable attitude and character, you'd be laughed out of town quicker than a crackpot mayor lobbying for a baseball-only stadium.

Five, six years ago, everyone here was miserable. Now, though, we're all miserable together. There's an almost tangible sense of unity in this club now: a candlelight vigil for Nate McLouth, players crying upon finding out they've been dealt. And when was the last time you ever heard of statistically average players on a cellar-dwelling team try to collectively bargain their way into staying in town and staying together? You almost never see this with teams, let alone teams this bad.

We all know that players win games, but that executives choose the players. And for all the talk we've heard in the past about creating a "culture of winning," nobody's done more to change the attitude and feel of this club than Jack Wilson. The Pirates are better off now than when he got here, and the only consistent feature over that period of time is him.

He likely won't be here when the club turns the corner and wins that 82nd game or makes the playoffs. But you can be damn sure he'll be paying attention, and that he'll be thrilled as anyone on this board.

I really hope that he returns to Pittsburgh later on in some capacity, or at least winds up an active member of the Pirates' Alumni Association. I look forward to some day down the road when I'll be able to walk up to him at PirateFest or an alumni autograph session, shake his hand and personally thank him for giving us something to be proud of during the very roughest of times.

Best of luck, Jack. We love you, man.

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