NEW YORK -- "When you're in a funk like this, it feels like when you pitch you don't hit, and when you hit you don't pitch. Maybe that's just how it's going."
That was Jacob Stallings, talking to me after the Pirates' seventh loss in a row, their ninth in 10 games, and their 13th in 15 games since the All-Star break. This one, Saturday night at Citi Field, came by a 3-0 count to the Mets.
Maybe Stallings is right. Maybe that's just how it's going.
But how will it end?
How should it end?
The micro here is that Trevor Williams pitched probably his best game of 2019, but he still conceded a couple home runs, the offense was mowed down for a complete-game shutout by some dude with a 4.75 ERA, and the defense was ... oh, just watch:
That Jung-Ho Kang gem, as the baseball gods would have it, immediately preceded one of the home runs. And along the way, other bad stuff happened, too.
Forget the micro for now. The macro is infinitely more important. And, in turn, it's infinitely more depressing, if only because nothing will change.
Bob Nutting's been the controlling owner of the franchise since early 2007. Within months, he fired Dave Littlefield and installed a new front office with Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington. And after dutifully sticking by John Russell for three years they'd all acknowledged were going to be bad, they hired Clint Hurdle in 2010.
In all that time, a decade and change, a grand total of one meaningful change occurred in the front office, that being Greg Smith's paper-move demotion from assistant GM to special assistant. At field level, too, it's been Hurdle and Ray Searage holding the two most pivotal jobs, with only the hitting and base coaches infrequently revolving.
In all that time, I needn't remind, there have been three playoff appearances out of ... well, soon it'll be 12 seasons. One actual playoff victory, the Blackout wild card over the Reds. Zero new flags of any kind to fly at PNC Park.
And all of these men remain not only gainfully employed but also signed for at least three years to come in most cases.
Process that for a moment.
Then, once you do, picture any other professional sports franchise, in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, that would put up with it.
Nope, me neither. All anyone needs to know is that the Pirates currently employ the National League's most tenured GM, presumably because he's the architect of ... one awesome night in 2013.
Sure, there's some talent at hand. And that, in isolation, is to the credit of Huntington and his staff. There's also been a powerful bond built within the clubhouse. And that, in isolation, is to the credit of Hurdle and his staff. But team sports aren't competed in isolated accomplishments, and they sure aren't accounted that way. It's about wins and losses and precious little else.
Well, the Pirates' 46-58 record is now last in the Central, next-to-last in the league only to the charlatan Marlins. Their pitching is now next-to-last in the league only to the high-altitude Rockies. Their offense, among the most productive in all of Major League Baseball in June, is now two runs removed from the worst since the break.
Which one's the mirage?
I don't know. Candidly, I don't care all that much anymore. Not in any sample size smaller than a dozen years.
Or however many more years this goes on because, again, nothing will change. Nutting values loyalty above all else. That's true in his newspaper chain, his ski resort, in all his family businesses, and the Pirates are anything but an exception: Coonelly does his bidding, preventing any and all Matt Morris contracts from being issued. Huntington does his bidding, operating with one of the majors' smallest payrolls without a peep of complaint. Hurdle, on a personal level, is a dear and trusted friend.
So it won't matter to Nutting, not in the slightest, that Coonelly's contributed mightily -- with who-knows-how-many tone-deaf remarks and actions -- to the unprecedented civic savaging of the brand. Nor that Huntington and Kyle Stark have executed the exact opposite of what Nutting himself had declared as Huntington's top priority, that being drafting and developing internal talent. Nor that Hurdle has shed a lot of his mojo in recent years. He started out, if you'll recall his introductory press conference, as being the one who'd challenge Nutting and all the rest. He does anything but these days.
Now, I can type for possibly the billionth time that the Pirates need a whole new front office. I can even toss Hurdle into that, however unfair that might be given that he's the main reason these players have performed with unbridled unity and passion, as any new front office certainly would want a new manager.
But what's the point?
No, really, what's the point of any of this?
If the individual with the ultimate say doesn't use actual results as his guiding light after a dozen years of 75 percent failure, if that one individual instead values loyalty and profit -- not necessarily in that order -- then what the hell are we all doing paying attention to this as if it's some serious process?
That's the macro. That means something.
Anyone with the stomach for more micro, that's just below.
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