I’ve got a confession to make. I didn’t watch any of this weekend’s Andrew McCutchen return, at least not live. I’d say it was because I had family in town, but I’m not sure it would have been a priority for me otherwise.

Sure, I pulled up a few clips to see what people were talking about. I was glad that McCutchen got acknowledged for his time in Pittsburgh. But a lot of the appeal for McCutchen’s return doesn’t apply to me.

A lot of the appeal was that McCutchen was a fan-favorite who loved the city of Pittsburgh and made it his home. I get that appeal. But I’m not a fan, and don’t have an emotional attachment to the city of Pittsburgh. I definitely enjoyed covering and watching McCutchen during his best years in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t need the game to serve as a reminder. And as for the city of Pittsburgh, my emotional attachment extends as far as thinking some of the photos taken of the Pittsburgh city are cool, but that none of them for me can match seeing the Sunshine Skyway or the Blue Ridge Mountains from places I consider home.

So I get the appeal for people this weekend. I get why so many showed up and cheered McCutchen on. He was a fan-favorite, and he shared a common love of a city that people in Pittsburgh also love, since people in Pittsburgh really love their city and love people who love their city, and get offended when people don’t think their city is the best, and I do think your city is cool, Pittsburgh, but I prefer the scenery of mountains and coastlines rather than buildings, plus I never lived there, so don’t kill me for thinking your city is just okay.

Anyway, there was something this weekend I didn’t get. While I was editing articles this weekend, this quote from Alan’s article on McCutchen’s return really stood out to me:

“When [the fans] were here, seeing him, obviously we wanted to play well and show them that we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Jordy Mercer said. “We did that tonight and hopefully, they’ll come back for more. Hopefully, they come back to see us when just anybody is in town. That’s what we wanted, but it’s also in (the clubhouse). That’s the biggest thing. We keep everything in here and feed off each other and whatever happens out there, happens out there.”

“Hopefully they’ll come back for more.”

“Hopefully they come back and see us when just anybody is in town.”

Those comments really stand out. It’s a team desperately hoping that fans will find something interesting about them. They’re comments from a team that has no appeal, outside of interesting opponents or returning players from former glory. It’s a sign that things could go back to normal when Andrew McCutchen leaves town, where the interest dies off for the Pirates until the next appealing event comes along. And through all of it, there’s a small hope and plea that the fans could find some small reason to want to go see an uninteresting baseball team from Pittsburgh play in an uninteresting baseball stadium in their home town.

Except none of those things are true. And that’s what I don’t get.

This Pirates team is interesting. They’re six games above .500 and half a game out. Yes, it’s early in the season. But the season is also a month and a half old. So it’s not THAT early. We’re getting to the point where the “Small Sample Size” disclaimer can be tossed out, and we can start talking about certain teams as real contenders. The Pirates would be one of those teams.

This isn’t a team that is only worthy of a follow when an interesting opponent or a former player comes into town.

This isn’t a team that should be ignored the second Andrew McCutchen and the Giants depart Pittsburgh.

This isn’t a team where you have to scrape and search for reasons to want to watch them. It’s a young team with a lot of exciting players who could be keys to this year’s success and future success. That team is an early contender for 2018, and the organization will only trend up from here, with several young prospects slated to join the group in the next year or two. It’s a fun team that dances in the clubhouse after each win, and has that lovable, relaxed, playful aspect that helped make Andrew McCutchen so popular.

Not to mention, they definitely don’t play in a generic stadium. For a population that obsesses over photos of the city from every angle at every time of the day, you’d think there would be an easy appeal from baseball fans to watch a baseball game in one of the best parks in MLB.

This weekend saw three of the four highest attended home games of the season for the Pirates, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that the attendance was up largely due to the return of McCutchen, rather than the performance of the team. The attendance at PNC Park this year has been pitiful for a team that is off to the start that the Pirates are off to. I’d be surprised if the upcoming homestand continues the same attendance levels we saw the last three days.

I know that I’m probably supposed to say that the people boycotting the team have totally valid reasons to boycott, and we need to respect their reasons. The truth is that it’s their right to boycott for whatever reasons they have. But at some point, you need to call people out for being stupid, stubborn, or both.

If your reason for a boycott is that the Pirates aren’t putting a winner on the field, then your boycott is causing you to miss seeing a winner on the field right now. And if you refuse to acknowledge that, you’re just being stubborn.

If your reason for a boycott is because the team doesn’t spend enough money, then you’re coming across as ignorant to the real problems for small market teams in MLB. You’re also missing that the Pirates spend on par with similar small market teams. There are a few that have gone all-in some years, but the reason the Pirates don’t take that same approach is because their philosophy on windows of contention is different. It’s not a factor of cheapness. It’s a factor of strategy, with one strategy seeing extreme highs and lows, and another seeing a steady payroll year over year.

You could debate which one is the correct strategy to take. I personally think the Pirates’ strategy — trying to make the playoffs every year and believing that windows don’t exist — is the wrong one. But step back a second and you’ll see that this is only a decision for small market teams, and big markets don’t have to deal with the decision of going big when they’re contending, the idea of windows of contention, or the concern of spending an extra $10-20 M in a single season.

Maybe you’ll be back if the Pirates somehow got a new owner, which won’t happen, as Bob Nutting has shown no intentions of selling the team. But until you realize that this is a market issue, and not an owner issue, you’ll just end up getting mad at the next owner for the same misplaced reasons.

Maybe you’ll just end the boycott permanently by becoming a fan of another team. I hear Milwaukee shows a will to win. They’re a team that has maxed out around a $110 M payroll (barely above the $109.6 M max for the Pirates), have topped $100 M once (Pirates twice), and are spending a few million extra this year than the Pirates while currently standing half a game ahead in the standings.

The best part is Milwaukee spends money. Sure, they slashed payroll to the $71-78 M range in 2016-17, but they jumped up in 2018 to $90 M. Meanwhile, the Pirates jumped back from the $109 M range the last two years to $85 M, but managed to improve their team. And somehow that makes Milwaukee, spending about $240 M over three years, more committed than the Pirates, spending just over $300 M in those same three years.

I know that saying the stuff I’m saying will probably get me branded an apologist, or someone defending Nutting, or how dare me telling the fans what to do. But honestly, if you still consider yourself a Pirates fan, and you’re boycotting the team for not trying to win, or even for not winning, then you’re being stupid. You’re being ignorant. You’re being stubborn. You’re ignoring key facts about the game of baseball and how the Pirates compare to other teams.

And if you came out to PNC Park this weekend and didn’t come away with the realization that the Pirates were right to trade a declining Andrew McCutchen, and that they’ve since improved and are a team worth watching, then you’re falling into a lot of the categories above.

I think it’s beyond time that this boycott gets called out. The weather is warmer, the Pirates are contending with 25% of the season in the books, and the team is pretty exciting to watch. If the attendance drops back down after the Giants series, that will be a pretty embarrassing reflection on Pittsburgh sports fans.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 5-0 to the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. The Pirates have off today. They begin a quick two-game set against the Chicago White Sox. The Pirates will send Trevor Williams to the mound tomorrow. The White Sox scheduled starter is right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who allowed two runs over 7.1 innings against the Pirates in his last start.

The minor league schedule includes Altoona going with Nick Kingham for one start so he stays on track for a spot start with the Pirates on May 19th. Bradenton will send Eduardo Vera to the mound. He has gone at least six innings in each of his last six starts, pushing it to seven innings on three occasions. Travis MacGregor starts for West Virginia in game one of a doubleheader after a rain out yesterday. He allowed two runs over five innings in each of his last two starts. Hunter Stratton is currently listed as the starter in the second game, though that could change. Indianapolis has off today.

MLB: Pittsburgh (23-17) vs White Sox (10-27) 7:05 PM 5/15
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (3.13 ERA, 29:20 SO/BB, 46.0 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (17-16) @ Norfolk (19-15) 6:35 PM 5/15 (season preview)
Probable starter: Alex McRae (5.34 ERA, 24:16 SO/BB, 30.1 IP)

AA: Altoona (18-15) vs Richmond (19-16) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (19-16) vs Daytona (22-13) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (2.55 ERA, 23:8 SO/BB, 44.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (20-13) @ Lakewood (19-15) 5:05 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Travis MacGregor (4.56 ERA, 17:6 SO/BB, 25.2 IP)  and TBD

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis on Saturday, Kevin Newman’s solo homer, followed by a Joe Musgrove highlight.

Musgrove

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

5/12: Joe Musgrove assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

5/10: JT Brubaker promoted to Indianapolis. Nick Kingham assigned to Altoona

5/10: Sergio Cubilete activated from disabled list. Jacob Taylor placed on West Virginia disabled list.

5/9: Brett McKinney placed on the Indianapolis disabled list

5/8: Pirates recall Jose Osuna

5/7: Nick Kingham optioned to Indianapolis

5/7: Sam Street released

5/7: Wyatt Mathisen promoted to Indianapolis. Logan Ratledge assigned to Altoona.

5/7: Joe Musgrove assigned to Altoona.

5/5: Braeden Ogle placed on West Virginia disabled list. Gavin Wallace activated from DL.

5/4: Pedro Vasquez promoted to Altoona. Sean Keselica assigned to Morgantown.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Only one former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date, and he played just one game. Drew Rader was a star pitcher at Syracuse, who would have been the first overall draft pick if there was an amateur draft back in 1921. Known at the time as the best college pitcher, the Pirates paid extra to get Rader into camp in 1921 and ended up using him just once. He pitched two shutout innings on July 18,1921, coming into the game late with Pittsburgh down 12-1 to the Giants. That was not just his only Major League game, he also only played one minor league game in his pro career. I will point out that a pitcher named Rader with an unknown first name, pitched briefly during the 1925, 1926 and 1929 seasons in the low minors, so that may have been him.

Also born on this date, manager Horace Phillips, who took over the team in 1884 and stuck around until 1889, making him the first manager for the Pirates (then called Alleghenys) after they moved to the National League.

On this date in 1896, Jake Stenzel collects six hits, as the Pirates defeat the Boston Beaneaters by a 20-4 score. Pittsburgh had 27 hits in the game. Stenzel had two hits the day before and four hits the day after his big game, making him 12-for-15 over a three game stretch. He ended up with a .361 batting average that season, which is one point higher than his .360 average with the Pirates over five seasons. That average puts him as the top hitter in franchise history.

Stenzel is a great player from the past that is often overlooked due to his short career and how long ago he played, but he has done something no one else in baseball history has done. He has four seasons in which he hit at least .350, stole 50 bases, scored 100 runs and drove in 80 runs. No one else has reached those minimum standards four times in their career and he did it four years in a row (1894-97).

Two years before Stenzel’s big game, the Pirates and the Cubs (then called the Colts) met for the first time on May 14th. The two teams went another 45 years before they met again on this date. In that 1894 game, the Pirates (who went by the nickname Braves that season) won 6-3 behind the pitching of Ad Gumbert, who went 15-14 that season despite a 6.04 ERA. Pittsburgh scored four runs in the second inning after a dropped ball at second base would have resulted in an easy inning-ending double play.

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