Rob Rossi: It's up to fans to force Pirates to change shameful ways
A couple of days into his first spring training, Andrew McCutchen spent a handful of minutes speaking to a reporter whom he had never met while inside the cramped, old clubhouse at McKechnie Field. For the reporter, the only memorable part of the chat was how it began.
"Hey, how are you?" McCutchen said.
That reporter would like to ask the same question to each and every fan of Pittsburgh's flagship franchise, which seems to have hoisted the white flag — presumably because it comes with more years of control for the Pirates than the Jolly Roger.
Hey, how are you?
Acceptable answers include: disgusted, disillusioned and dead inside. Pitchers and catchers will not report for about a month, but there remains time for the Pirates to lace their fans' drinks with cyanide by sending overboard the few remaining players anybody might recognize on Opening Day.
Former first overall draft pick and would-be ace Gerrit Cole won't be pitching for the Pirates on Opening Day. McCutchen, the former face of the franchise (not to mention the franchise's best player since Barry Bonds), won't be batting for the Pirates on Opening Day.
If Josh Harrison isn't a former Pirates All-Star by Opening Day, it will be a bigger stunner than that time when the Steelers defense made the Blake Bortles-led Jacksonville Jaguars resemble the Dan Marino-armed Miami Dolphins.
What should not stun anybody is if the Pirates actually upcharge for cyanide cups at home games and customers come back for seconds, thirds and fourths anyway. Willfully ignoring reprehensible behavior by the franchise — the Pirates' limited spending and lackluster roster management since winning 98 games in 2015 has been as reprehensible as anything from the club over the past 25 years — has become as much a tradition in Pittsburgh as are crashing the ballpark gates in the name of fireworks, figurines and free T-shirts.
You paid to have PNC Park built for the Pirates.
You keep coming.
Not enough of you are disgusted, disillusioned or dead inside. Nor will you be if the Pirates make Harrison, Francisco Cervelli and one of Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco (or both) walk the plank before or during the upcoming season.
The Pirates will welcome, at worst, 1.2 million fans to PNC Park in 2018.
Too, too many if you ask me.
Of course, if you would have asked me a couple of years ago, the Pirates would not have been able to get away with dumping Cole and McCutchen and getting practically nothing in return. Yet for parting with the two most prominent — and popular — players from their starting lineup in the 2015 National League wild-card game, the Pirates garnered less heat from Pittsburghers than did the Steelers defensive coaches.
Maybe an upset loss at home by the Steelers in the playoffs really does suck up all the oxygen in our city.
Or maybe the Pirates could shoot dead one of their own on the Roberto Clemente Bridge and not be held accountable in Pittsburgh.
Opening Day will sell out. From May through July, most weekend contests will be staged to 85 percent capacity.
So long as doing the bare minimum does minimal damage to the bottom line, owner Bob Nutting would be stupid to change his strategy. If anything, I'm curious how low the payroll can go, how unrecognizable the regulars can become, before the paying customers force consequences.
Still, I'd bet on Mike Tomlin being fired by the Steelers before the Pirates' core constituents hold Nutting's feet to the fire.
Their best pitcher and their generational superstar were just traded for nearly nothing of significant value and the Pirates are going to get away with it — in the same city where the citizens want drawn and quartered a Steelers coach who has never turned in a losing season and has won a Super Bowl.
Says a lot about what the Pirates have going for them. What they have is a strong base that will stick by the Pirates' disheartening decisions no matter what — and that not even dropping anchor on another summer during another bleak winter matters.
A couple of days after the most recent World Series ended, Andrew McCutchen spent a handful of minutes speaking to a reporter whom he had known for more than a decade from inside Hello Bistro in Wexford. For the reporter, the memorable part of the chat was how it began.
"Hey, how are you?" McCutchen said.
Certainly not foolish enough to believe the Pirates will pay a price for the way they do business. And whose fault is that?
Rob Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Real_RobRossi.