THE DICHOTOMY OF BEING A PIRATE AND PENGUIN FAN
“…his mind is a divided one. His soul is restless.” — Robert Angier on Alfred Borden from The Prestige
My mind is a divided one, as well. Even though Steel City Buzz asked me to be “the baseball guy” and “talk about those guys in the minors”, I’m also a huge Penguins fan. Rooting for the two franchises can at times be maddening. For me, it is also hypocritical as well.
As a Pirate fan, especially one that follows the minors closely, I see the merits of building a team via the draft and keeping young talent in the organization. Whether small market dynamics have beaten me down or not, I see the need to release high-priced veterans perhaps a year early in order to gain a return in the form of future prospects to keep the machine humming (theoretically).
But as a Penguin fan, I have been spoiled by the presence of two of the top hockey talents in the world and an aggressive General Manager in Ray Shero that is willing to set aside the future in favor of the present. When I talk hockey with my friends who follow hockey, we always repeat the same mantra — FLAGS FLY FOREVER. If you have not heard or used the phrase, it’s basically an “ends justifies the means” method of being willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship. Because in the end, if you win, that banner hangs from the rafters for the rest of time. No one remembers who came in second place.
GM Ray Shero subscribes to a form of this mantra, as evidenced by his moves at this year’s trade deadline. In moves to obtain four players, he gave up the following picks in this year’s draft:
1st round pick (for Iginla)
2nd round pick (for Murray, plus the 2nd round pick in 2014)
5th round pick (for Morrow, but he got back a 3rd round pick in the deal)
6th round pick (for Jokinen)
Considering that the hockey draft is only 7 rounds, it sure seems as if the ol’ draft crew will be a little bored this year. In the Brenden Morrow deal, Shero also traded young, promising defenseman Joe Morrow, their 1st round pick from 2011. Defensemen in hockey are like pitchers in baseball — they’re a valuable commodity and you can never have enough of them. But because Shero has been drafting, developing, and trading for young defensemen in the past few years, he was fine with including one of his top prospects for Brenden Morrow.
On the other side of the city, the inability to part with top talent via trade makes following Neal Huntington frustrating at times. Last year the Pirates were as close to sniffing the playoffs as any point since the miraculous run in 1997, but no impact players were brought in to fortify the team down the stretch. Yes, Huntington did trade for Wandy Rodriguez and gave up three B/C level prospects in Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, and Colton Cain, but there were other moves and other players that were left to go by the wayside. It was if Huntington was trying to accomplish both deadline shopping and offseason shopping at the same time, shown by getting Rodriguez, Gaby Sanchez, and Travis Snider and their multiple years of control. What about going after a good old fashioned rental player that some team is willing to offload for a low-level prospect and salary relief?
The major issue at hand is that both leagues are run under far different economic models. The NHL has a hard salary cap (and a salary floor) of $70M for a 23-man roster. By the way, under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement the cap drops to $64M next season. Try to get that to happen in MLB. Baseball does not have a salary cap, preferring the cigar-chomping model of Free Market Capitalism to the NHL’s Socialism. There is revenue sharing and also luxury tax penalties in MLB, but only 1-3 teams pay any noticeable tax each year.
How can the same city of Pittsburgh be a top spender in one sport and a bottom tier spender in another sport? Besides the difference in a salary cap and a free market, there is also the matter of attendance. The Pens have regularly sold out the Mellon Arena and Consol Energy Center for the past several years. But these buildings held 16,500 to 18,500 fans. Even though PNC Park is one of the smallest capacity stadiums (by design) it still holds 38,300 fans. If the Pens draw 18,500 it is packed and boisterous. If the Pirates do it, PNC Park is sparse and quiet.
Because of the out of control salaries in MLB, it is vital to have a good core of young, cheap talent that produces far more on the field than what they are paid. This happens within the player’s first 6 years of control with the team. With the escalating costs of obtaining players in free agency, it is at best a break-even proposition on whether the on-field production will equal the off-field payment.
For years, I have loathed the arrogance of Yankee fans, players, and management. If the Yankees want someone, they think they can get him. The Yankee fans expect to win the World Series every year. All TV coverage rotates around the Yankees. Watching them age and struggle this year is a delight.
And this is where I feel like a hypocrite, because that is EXACTLY what the rest of the hockey world feels about the Penguins and their fans. Ray Shero didn’t get just one captain at the trade deadline…he got two (Iginla and Morrow). Iginla wanted to come to Pittsburgh to try and gravy train his way to a Cup, so he nixed a potential deal to Boston that would have had a better return for Calgary. It is almost a fait accompli, in some fans’ minds, that the Pens will win the Cup this year. Setting aside the grueling nature of a run through the Cup playoffs, that is the exact same mentality that makes my blood boil in baseball.
I suppose the short answer is that I should just enjoy having a perennial winner in the form of the Penguins and ride this incredible run of ownership and management. It was only at the start of this fresh-faced millenium that the Penguins were a relocation candidate and being run into the ground by poor ownership and management.
I will be just as happy as the next guy or gal to see the Cup being raised above 87’s head this summer, but a part of me will wonder how I can root for a top-echelon team in one sport and a bottom-echelon team in another.
All within the friendly confines of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Steel City Buzz Staff Pirate Blogger