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Bats and Balls

Temporary Revival?

The Pittsburgh Pirates won their third straight game, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight 4-1. This puts them exactly one game over .500.

The Pirates haven’t been over .500 past the first week of the season in seven years, when they last topped .500 on May 29, 2004.

That’s how bad it’s been for the Pirates, whose fans have had nothing to cheer about since Francisco Cabrera’s two-RBI single in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. No winning seasons, just life as an also-ran for 19 seasons. In the 21 seasons prior, Pittsburgh won two World Series and six division titles. Pittsburgh’s a football town, sure, but baseball ran a close second.

These days, it’s not so much a baseball town unless locals are discussing Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente or Bill Mazeroski. It’s a shame, and I HATED the Pirates in their heyday of the early 1990s.

Baseball has some problems, and as tough as it is for small-to-medium market teams to be competitive, it’s not unheard of. Kansas City and Cleveland are enjoying a nice start, and Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, Atlanta, San Diego, Oakland, Seattle, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee have all enjoyed runs of at least a little sustained success.

It’s management that screws it up in Pittsburgh. They haven’t had a good ownership situation in some time, and while they have developed some of the league’s better players, they don’t hold onto them long enough to get any dividends out of them.

Improvement is incremental, but decline seems to be exponential until you hit bottom. One thing cascades into another into another, and soon you are the Pittsburgh Pirates. Or the KC Royals. Or the Cubs.

19 seasons of futility is pretty bad, though.

Family Business Paralysis!

Apropos of nothing, here’s a new twist to the continuing Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce saga.

Major League Baseball has moved to seize control of the Dodgers, a famed franchise that fans and much of the baseball world had come to see as crippled by an owner who does not appear to have enough money to operate the team.

A lot of employees will be hurt in this spectacle. And by employees, I do not mean Andre Ethier. The 9-to-5ers for the Dodgers (ticket sales, customer relations, etc., etc.) will have some sleepless nights as this mess gets sorted.

I suppose when ownership is at 50-50, you need to make it work out somehow, or be a selfish ass and screw everyone else, even when you say you care about them out of the other side of your mouth.

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Another $10 million arm, $.10 head

Mike Leake was supposed to be one of the Cincinnati Reds’ top young pitchers, an ace in the making. Strangely, he was shut down in the last month of last year to preserve his fragile rookie arm. Whatever, Leake was expected to come back and take a prominent spot in the rotation.

Leake is 2-0 so far this year for the Reds, but the news out of Cincy makes me wonder what his future will be.

Leake stole six shirts from Macy’s. The value of the shirts was less than $60.00. Leake makes $425,000, which makes him a relative pauper in the Major Leagues, but quite comfortable in this country.

Since the first bonus baby was signed, we’ve heard of pitchers with “Million Dollar Arms and Ten Cent Heads.” They get the tag for different reasons.

Take a look at another pitcher, a right-hander who as far I know is not a felon. Jake Peavy has been on the comeback trail since last year’s gruesome injury. He pitched lights out in spring training and then admitted he felt some shoulder discomfort all along. The White Sox put him on the disabled list and had him continue to rehab in Arizona before sending him on a few rehab stints in the minors.

His first two starts went swimmingly. He pitched well, and he reported no disomfort.

His third start was tonight. Peavy didn’t last 15 pitches. Shoulder discomfort. While I know that Peavy desperately wants to return to the Major League mound, he hasn’t done himself any favors by being less than honest with the Sox trainers. For his sake, I hope his $0.10 head doesn’t devalue his $10 million arm.

Hard to hate

It’s always a battle building up white-hot hatred of the Brewers. Sorry, I reserve that for the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, et. al.

What you might not know is that I used to love the Brewers, starting in the early 1980s, when I was a little kid getting into baseball and we would get Channel 18 out of Milwaukee, which broadcast the Brewers. I was hooked when they went to the World Series in 1982, losing to the Cardinals, a team I already had no use for.

I went to a few games at County Stadium with my Dad, but by high school, my friends and I figured out that a Brewers game was a pretty cheap date (bleacher tickets $4), so County Stadium was where I spent many summer nights in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995.

Then they joined the National League. I couldn’t give them most favored status. The Cubs still sit in the driver’s seat. But I can’t hate them.

What’s weird is watching these Friday night games. Tonight, the Cubs beat the Brewers 7-4. But look at the Brewers’ laundry:

It’s the 1980s all over again! Sigh.

By the way, why not make these their full-time uniforms? They really are the best unis that franchise has had.

The arrow is DOWN?

An interesting study by University of Chicago’s Tobias Moskovitz suggests that Cubs’ fans have grown more “fair-weather” the last few years. These days attendance is very sensitive to team performance.

The team finished 75-87 last year, and is off to a 3-3 start in 2011. On Monday, the Cubs acknowledged their lowest attendance at a game in nine years — 26,292 fans for a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, though maybe half that many were actually there.

“I think the fans are showing a little tough love,” said Moskowitz, a Cubs fan.

The pressure is going to be on the Ricketts family soon if the Cubs continue to stumble and fans begin to stay away. If revenues slip, they might have no choice but to sell the team for something in a few years.

It might also signal the beginning of the end for Wrigley Field.