Hope is a Pie in the Face

There was a particularly poignant moment at the culmination of Stephen Strasburg’s 14-strikeout evisceration of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night. As the Washington Nationals’ 21-year-old rookie ace was putting the finishing touches on his seven-inning act of whiff-inducing whimsy, the hometown D.C. crowd was absolutely electric.

It was a playoff atmosphere for a last-place team.

Imagine it—24,000 people at a ballpark all brimming with hope and dignity and clutching their debit cards ready to buy a hat and a replica jersey on their way out the door. I sat on my couch in Pittsburgh watching their euphoria in a deluge of cheese-puff crumbs and numbing boredom. Hope never seemed so far away for the Pirates.

A Pirates fan settles in for another four hours of masochism.

But forget Strasburg’s pitching performance and the crackling atmosphere at Nationals Park. The really interesting moment happened when Strasburg gave post-game interviews to the crush of national media in attendance. He was wearing a silver Elvis Presley pompadour wig and his face was caked with a shaving cream pie.

This is what hope looks like.

The hilarious wig tradition was started by none other than Nyjer Morgan, a burgeoning cult hero among Pirates fans until he was traded to the Nationals for the lumbering, bumbling unfulfilled talent of one Lastings Milledge—whose season has gone to the toilet so fast his nickname should be Milledgeville.

Morgan is what blowhards call a “glue guy.” He keeps guys loose. He’s the sandlot equivalent of the Penguins’ Billy Guerin.

But Morgan was apparently not part of the organization’s vaunted five-year-plan. Tuesday night’s post-game celebration was evidence that the Pirates made a huge miscalculation. Just like the departed Nate McLouth, Morgan was traded “at the peak of his value,” meaning that he was playing very well for the Pirates, but management didn’t have faith that he could keep up the pace. This defeatist, spineless management philosophy is taught exclusively at the Parisian School of Business.

Sorry, French readers.

The message that the Pirates' brass sent to their players with the Morgan move was especially damaging because it wasn’t their traditional modus operandi of a salary dump. It was a lateral move—a move for keeping up appearances. The Pirates got a name. Unfortunately, the locker room got the message that hustle, attitude and chemistry are expendable.

Sure, Morgan is a spindly .250 hitter with no power. He was never going to be an everyday player on a winning baseball team. But the Pirates’ management betrayed a deceptively wise Mike Tomlin cliché: They ignored the journey and focused solely on the destination.

Quick irrelevant aside: I have no ground to stand on making a joke about the French. Like, I was watching “Deadliest Catch” the other night and the deck handswho were on their third sleepless night-shift in a row—were being pounded by freezing waves without complaint. I had to pause the show on my DVR because a cat hair had triggered my delicate allergies and made me bleary-eyed. I couldn’t continue my reality TV experience until I found some Claritin. That’s just how we roll here in the Iron City.

Anyway, the Pirates should be looking across town and studying the Penguins’ blueprint for turning a league laughing stock into a winner. When you’re a rebuilding team with blue-chip prospects like Andrew McCutchen (or, in the Penguins’ case, Sidney Crosby), you do not need a stable of washed-up veterans and unfulfilled talent. Look how John LeClair worked out for the Penguins, for example. What you need are stable, hard-working, positive influences surrounding your blue chippers—guys who make them laugh and take the pressure off.

Guys like Max Talbot. Pascal Dupuis. Colby Armstrong. Rob Scuderi.

Back in 2005, did anyone think those “no-talent grinders” would help build a Stanley Cup Champion?

“Woah, I’m a superstar, bro.”

The Pirates needed a guy like Morgan—not to win today, but to build a winning attitude. Now Washington has him to keep their blue-chipper Strasburg smiling. In return, the Pirates have Milledge—and nothing sends the chills of hope down your spine quite like a 210-pound man lumbering around the outfield and making lackadaisical baserunning errors that would get a tee-ball player reamed out by his mesh-hatted, jorts-wearing Dad/Coach.

The ballyhooed prospect trio of Brad Lincoln, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker has arrived, with Pedro Alvarez to come—but I’m afraid the machinery has arrived before the infrastructure. There is no glue. No shaving cream pies. No vigor.

As we’ve learned with Crosby and the Penguins, keeping your stars smiling and your fans happy in a rebuilding period is often more important than statistical metrics and "selling-high" and the ever-unctuous “up-side” and all the Moneyball fluffery and puffery.

Chemistry matters.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
See How Pittsburgh Chefs Are Giving Back

See How Pittsburgh Chefs Are Giving Back

Some of the city's top chefs and bartenders are organizing events to raise awareness about food waste and hate crimes in our community.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

These comic book shops offer more than just your casual Batman or Spider-Man choices.

Comments


New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

If you’re in need of a dining option that’s not a national chain while visiting the Robinson area, this is one to keep in mind.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

The Steelers running back emphasized his latest suspension resulted from missed random drug tests, and not a relapse into the marijuana-induced haze that got him jammed up last season. But if you lack the maturity to grasp the consequences of your actions (or, in this case, inactions), does it really matter?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Straight out of Canada, the custom menswear store opens its first U.S. location in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Hipsters in Iraq, Cops and Robbers in the Old West

Hipsters in Iraq, Cops and Robbers in the Old West

Reviews of "War Dogs" and "Hell or High Water," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

Want even more Real Pittsburgh Weddings? We'll be bringing them to you throughout the fall, beginning with this lovely and lucky couple.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

The store famous for carrying storage and organizational products is set to open at the revamped Block Northway in Ross Township.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

A fall visitation day and a Saturday information session aim to allow interested students a look into life at the university.

Comments

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags