Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ghosts of Christmas Past...

OK, the Pirates are going into 2009 with a roster of, well...Pittsburgh will have a roster. GW took a look back just to see what a difference a couple of decades make, to the one-away season of 1989.

The team would finish fifth, with a 74-88 record, but was just a year away from 95 wins and first place in the East. It was the kind of team Pirate fans have been lighting candles to see.

The 1989 Pittsburgh Pirates:

C - Junior Ortiz, about to be phased out by Spanky Lavalierre
1B - Gary Redus, holding down the fort for Sid Bream, who had a bum knee
2B - Chico Lind
SS - Jay Bell
3B - Bobby Bonilla, who would take over RF in 1990 and be replaced by Jeff King
LF - Barry Bonds
CF - Andy Van Slyke
RF - Glen Wilson & RJ Reynolds platooned; Bobby Bo manned the spot next season

PH - Rey Quinones, Jeff King, Spanky, John Cangelosi, Rafael Belliard and Benny DiStefano. Wally Backman and Don Slaught would replace Quinones, Ortiz, and DiStefano the following year.

SP - Doug Drabek, Bob Walk, John Smiley, Jeff Robinson, Neal Heaton, and Randy Kramer. Robinson and Kramer were gone in 1990, and pitching in their stead were Walt Terrell, Randy Tomlin, Zane Smith and Rick Reed.

BP - Bill Landrum closed, Bob Kipper, Doug Bair, and swingmen Robinson, Walk, and Heaton. Stan Belinda and Scott Ruskin would join the mix in 1990.

Does the 2009 PBC have any similarities with the 1989 club? Well, it depends how you look at the glass.

In the field and at bat, they were built around AVS, Bobby Bo, Barry Bonds, Jeff King, Jay Bell and Chico Lind. Next year's team will be centered around the abilities of Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Brandon Moss, and possibly Jack Wilson or Andrew McCutchen.

The rest were mix-and-match, the way that Jimmy Leyland, master of the platoon system, liked to manage the game. John Russell will get plenty of opportunity to use his bench, too, but for different reasons.

The pitching counted on Doug Drabek, Bob Walk, and John Smiley to pile up the innings and take the ball every turn, plus a handful of guys that could work out of the pen or start. Pittsburgh in 2009 will call on Paul Maholm, Ian Snell...and, well, a lot of guys that will fight for the next start.

The bullpen? Well, both teams took a pitch-by-committee attitude into the season. The Bucs may be better off in that regard with Matt Capps on hand. Landrum drew most of the work in 1989, but closing was pretty well spread out in the championship season the following year.

Do they match up? Nah. The 1989 Pirates had a couple of young guys that would become legitimate stars scattered amongst a pretty solid veteran core. Bonds and Bonilla could carry a team; McLouth and Doumit aren't there. Neither is the experience factor. The suits aren't adding to this team; they're still busy blowing it up.

The pitching is where the teams really veer. Drabek would become a Cy Young guy, and he's who the staff was built around. The Pirates may have someone of that physical ability with Ian Snell, but he's a far cry from the consistency of DD. And the 1989 version had great depth, something that the 2009 team is striving to add. All you have to do is look at the team ERAs - 3.64 in '89, 5.10 in '08.

Offensively, today's Bucs scored 735 runs, and the 1989 edition only put up 637. But if you take away the 122 runs scored by Jay Bay and Xavier Nady, it matches up fairly evenly, especially as the replacements, Nyjer Morgan, Andy LaRoche, and Brandon Moss, only put up 49 tallies.

So hey - if things fall right, maybe by late 2010 or 2011, the Pirates might be the equal to the 1989 team. We can only hope; God know's Pittsburgh fans have been waiting long enough (since they broke the 1989 Bucs up in 1993) for a team that plays like there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

* For the rumor de jour and other Bucco stuff, Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette has it all pretty well covered in one post or another at the PBC Blog.

* The Pirates just hired a new play-by-play guy, Tim Neverett, formerly of FSN Rocky Mountain, to replace Lanny.

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