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

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
8 Places You'll Want to Discover Not Far From Pittsburgh

8 Places You'll Want to Discover Not Far From Pittsburgh

Point a compass north, south, east, west and everywhere in between. We chose eight destinations, each within a few hours' drive of Pittsburgh, with lots to explore at every step.
From PIT: 5 Easy Destinations for International Travelers

From PIT: 5 Easy Destinations for International Travelers

This year, the city’s vacation horizons are wider than ever, thanks to an array of easy new flights from Pittsburgh International Airport.
Restaurant Review: Acorn is Ready to Grow

Restaurant Review: Acorn is Ready to Grow

Scott Walton's restaurant plants a much-needed seed on Walnut Street in Shadyside.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags


PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

The airport authority will use minds at CMU to discover ways to make it easier for passengers to get from the terminal’s parking lots to their seat on the plane.

Comments

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

The ninth play in the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle will open outside at the August Wilson House.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Soju in Garfield

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

Comments

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

Smallman Galley will rotate its third class of chef/owners this June … but this time there’s a twist.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Comments

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Comments


Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

Comments

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

The bar team at the Strip District restaurant incubator continues its flights of fancy with Flashback Flavors.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

Comments

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

The power play, star power and goaltending are among the primary weapons the Penguins have at their disposal in their quest for another championship. But so, too, is an unshakable belief they can hoist Lord Stanley's Cup three times in a row.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Comments

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

A review of "Rampage," plus an update on the former Friends of the Hollywood Theater and other local movie news.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

From new decor in the home to donations to charity, check out these ways to repurpose leftover wedding decor.

Comments

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

A pair of puffin socks played a big role in this Pittsburgh couple’s relationship — and, in a surprise move by their pastor, their wedding.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

The vintage décor and reclaimed materials business owned by Seth Hunter will open in a larger Lawrenceville warehouse next month.

Comments

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Tours of Empire on Liberty, a one-time furniture and carpet warehouse in Bloomfield turned into a mixed-use structure, take place this month. The tour includes a look at the penthouse and two condos.

Comments

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags