Tim Benz: Sid Bream pulls a Michael Keaton at PiratesFest
Once my eye stopped twitching after flashing back to Francisco Cabrera's hit, I could appreciate the scene.
Former Pirate Sid Bream was at PNC Park Saturday afternoon. Yes, in Pirates jersey. Not a Braves one like the one he wore sliding across home plate to end Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
He was on stage with four Pirates players he helped eliminate that fateful October night: Bob Walk, Doug Drabek, Mike LaValliere and John Wehner.
The men were holding court for a question-and-answer session with fans at Pirate Fest.
Bream, who maintained roots in Pittsburgh and seemingly identified as a Pirate despite the ominous footnote he holds, choked up at one point.
“I always wished I could've won (a championship) with these guys, because they meant so much to me,” said Bream.
He slightly turned his head away from Drabek and LaValliere, almost as if he didn't feel comfortable looking at them while talking about his slide, knowing how that play prevented his former teammates from going on to the World Series.
I admit I got choked up, too. Maybe it was Bream's reaction. Or maybe it was the ghost pain I still feel in my right hand whenever the topic of “When Sid slid” comes up.
See, while Bream was celebrating at home plate, I was at Syracuse punching a steel door in my dorm common room.
Bream and Cabrera broke my heart. That door broke my middle knuckle.
A fan asked the players if they thought the remaining core of the Pirates that has carried over from the 2013-2015 playoff years was good enough to make another playoff run.
The parallels are obvious. Those Pirates went through three consecutive empty postseason trips in 1990, '91 and '92. Their window closed after Sid slid. Twenty consecutive losing seasons ensued.
These Pirates missed the playoffs in 2016 after three qualifications in a row. Then 2017 got even worse. So are the Pirates headed for another two decades of losing?
With Bream's love for the franchise he once vanquished already on display, it made his answer ring loudly.
“This might be a little cruel, but I think ownership in some ways has a huge part in determining what a team is going to be like,” Bream paused as applause filled the room. “I think that there have been opportunities over the years here with the more modern day teams to bring in somebody that would tell the team ‘We want to win.' Take in point, the Houston Astros. They don't go out and get a rookie. They go out and get (Justin) Verlander. That tells the team ‘We want to win.' ”
Bream wasn't done.
“The first year that they were going to get over .500 (2012), they were 16 games over .500 in August. And they had an opportunity to go out and get Hunter Pence. But instead, they got someone else who wasn't established in the game. And you just saw the team go (downhill).”
The 2012 Pirates finished with 79 wins. Presumably Bream meant Travis Snyder, who had never played more than 82 games in a season at that point.
Ironically, Bream was sitting in exactly the same spot Michael Keaton was when he openly questioned the willingness of Pirates management to spend money for talent by saying “Write the check” moments before he went on the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in April 2006.
Bream's barb was pretty close to that level, as he preached at the team's biggest fan function of the year.
It's tough to debate Bream, especially when general manager Neal Huntington had this to say on that same stage minutes later in his own Q&A:
“There are a lot of those teams that put everything they have into this year's club. And their fans are thrilled. Until they don't win. Then, they start to lose 95 games. And they've got to rebuild. Because they've mortgaged their future for their present. It happened in Kansas City.”
Yeah, Neal. It happened in Kansas City. Exactly. Similar to those early 90s Pirates, the Royals had four straight years at .500 or better after a decade of losing baseball. But they actually won it all in 2015.
Do you think those five ex-Pirates who were on that stage before you would've taken that? How about guys from the more recent era?
Do you think the fans and alumni would be less inclined to hurl such pointed criticisms at you if those things had happened?
I say: “Yes.” “Absolutely.” And “no doubt”
So what's the message, Mr. Huntington? Don't ever “go for broke” because you might actually wind up broke?
Ok, I get it. But you haven't. And I don't feel like the Pirates are living on Major League Baseball's Park Avenue as a result.
Are you serious with this: “The fans are thrilled until the team doesn't win” bologna? Well, what if the team actually does, you know … win?
Ok, I better calm down. My twitching eye and throbbing Cabrera-knuckle injury are starting to flare up again.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.