Ron Cook: This pandemic has even taken away our chance to complain about Pirates

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How about we start with a little levity in these trying, stressful times?

This goes back to the end of the 1986 baseball season, after the New York Mets had won the World Series that was infamous because of Bill Buckner’s error. The Pirates, who lost 98 games that season under rookie manager Jim Leyland, went 1-17 against the Mets. That prompted the inimitable Leyland to mutter, “The Mets couldn’t be that damn good. We beat ‘em once.”

I thought about that wonderful observation after reading a tweet Sunday from a man named Chas Frazier, whose Twitter profile says, “Steelers, Penguins are my teams. Pitt (tick) me off from time to time but still love them.” Clearly, Frazier struggled getting through a long, dark weekend with no sports, a weekend that turned March Madness into March Sadness.

“I even miss complaining about the Pirates,” he tweeted.

Now, that is pain.

OK, I think I know what you are thinking at this point:

How does this relate to the 1986 Mets?

Dwight Gooden pitched for the Mets that season. He also became the first person, as far as I can remember, to publicly bash the Pirates, who were owned at that time by a consortium of Pittsburgh business leaders.

“They’re a Mickey Mouse organization,” Gooden said.

Some things never change, right?

That’s what no World Series since 1979 and just eight winning seasons in the past 36 years bring you.

Kevin McClatchy was the Pirates’ lead owner from 1996-2007. He was blasted by Pittsburgh native/prominent actor Michael Keaton — Batman! — in 2006 before Keaton threw out the first pitch on opening day at PNC Park. Think about that for a second. Keaton was given the great honor of the first pitch and ripped the ball club. He even went to the mound wearing a Hines Ward cap instead of a Pirates hat.

“Look, I’d do it, too, if I were a businessman,” Keaton said of the team’s minuscule payroll. “But, at some point, you’ve got to win. I think fans have been gracious. And maybe not vocal enough, maybe not vociferous, with their displeasure. …

“I fear they will take advantage of the goodwill of the people who continue to show up. For my money, that’s disrespectful. At some point, you either have to write the check or do something and not assume, well, we’re OK.”

It doesn’t get any worse than that.

Or does it?

Bob Nutting took over as the Pirates’ principal owner in 2007. People have been piling on him ever since for being cheap, the latest to do it another Pittsburgh native/prominent actor, Billy Gardell, who often is seen at Penguins games and leading the Terrible Towel wave at Steelers games. He did a CBS promotional appearance earlier this month and said he raised his son, William, to be a Steelers fan — “Non-negotiable,” he called that — — but that the two go to Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games.

“My Pirates, man, my poor Pirates,” Gardell said. “I’m not a big fan of the ownership in Pittsburgh. I don’t think they have treated the team the way it should be treated. We have fire sales every year, you know? We let (Andrew McCutchen) go to Philly and, you know, (Gerrit) Cole, I’m watching him pitch for the Astros in the World Series. It just breaks my heart because they’ve had the pieces.

“(Nutting) sings a song and dance about, ‘Oh, it’s a small-market team.’ Well, Cleveland competes, man. Minnesota competes. There is a way to do this and you have an incredible fan base that wants to be at the games. I root for them, but I am screaming at the TV by May 15, and that’s a little frustrating.”

A lot frustrating, actually.

For all of us.

I started with a little levity and I will try to finish with some.

This goes back to when the COVID-19 pandemic first began to hit the sports world with full force. The NBA and NHL talked of continuing their games in empty arenas. NCAA officials planned to do the same thing with the NCAA tournament.

Within minutes, I received the same text almost simultaneously from my daughter, Taylor, and my good pal, Filippo Lombardo. It was a picture of a virtually empty PNC Park taken last September when the Pirates were finishing one of the worst second halves in franchise history, a collapse that led to the firing of Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle. The headline on the photograph blared, BREAKING NEWS: BUCS TO PLAY TO EMPTY BALLPARK. In smaller letters below: It has nothing to do with the virus — It’s just the Pirates.

I admit, I laughed.

I don’t apologize for it.

It sure beat the heck out of crying.


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