Collier: Blame for Pirates' collapse goes to the very top

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Given any imaginable way to avoid it, my aunt wouldn't walk.

Simply refused.

There was a small grocery down the street from her house, not 100 yards away.

She'd take the Buick.

If the Buick happened to be facing the wrong way, she'd back it down there. Fire up an eight-cylinder, 400-plus cubic inch Wildcat engine, and slip that ship into reverse for a trip that took maybe 6 seconds.

Wouldn't walk.

And still, she walked more than Clint Barmes.

Here we are, Sept. 20, and I've got the Pirates shortstop for 15 walks in 443 plate appearances. Barmes plays a splendid shortstop and goes about his business as conscientiously as any player in a Pirates uniform. Given a full complement of highly competent co-workers, a team could easily win with Clint Barmes in a climate where everyone's shortcomings weren't magnified by an unbreakable fun house mirror that will soon reflect 20 years of losing baseball.

What has happened to the Pirates in a once richly promising but ultimately lost summer is not the fault of people such as Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas and Jose Tabata and Jared Hughes and Alex Presley or of any another half-dozen players who seem to frustrate the very corpuscles out of the club's undeservedly loyal fan base.

In fact, when the second game of this ill-fated Milwaukee series (oops, redundant) started Wednesday night on the North Shore, Barmes was on a one-game hitting streak and everyone else in manager Clint Hurdle's lineup was a combined 0 for their past 41.

No, not his fault.

The fault lines for a bollixed up pennant race, the fissures that made the best team in baseball (honest to God your June and July Pirates) into the worst team in baseball (this August-into-September version), are way farther north on the corporate depth chart.

General Manager Neal Huntington has made his share of mistakes with this team, though none in this view that couldn't have been overcome had the starting pitching managed to sustain its performance across more than two-thirds of a season.

He also has gotten some ridiculous criticism, the worst example being that which fastened itself to the trade deadline dismissal of Casey McGehee. In my short term memory, virtually nobody had anything nice to say about McGehee's performance while he was here, but a month after he went to the Yankees he somehow became Orlando Cepeda.

Hurdle has made his share of mistakes with this team, but again, in this view, none that couldn't have been overcome by a more capable and consistent offense, perhaps an offense that isn't on pace to strike out more than 1,300 times, a staggering figure that translates to eight or nine every night.

As Hurdle likes to point out, that's a third of your outs surrendered while the opposition is happily playing pitch-and-catch.

So there will be much too much discussion in the coming months about Hurdle's job security and Huntington's job security (if curiously not Frank Coonelly's job security as he appears to be President For Life).

But these are people, along with the accomplished players on a broad-arc improving team that simply hasn't learned how to win yet, who are just plain hung out to dry by Bob Nutting.

Real contenders for postseason play acquire players at the trade deadline who, whether they pan out or not for the acquiring team, succeed or fail on their own merit. If Hunter Pence doesn't work out in San Francisco, that's on Hunter Pence. If Adrian Gonzalez or Shane Victorino or Josh Beckett can't help the Dodgers, that's on them, not Ned Colletti.

But if Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez do nothing for the Pirates, that's somehow Huntington's fault or Hurdle's fault.

If Nutting had wanted to put the Pirates into serious postseason discussion he wouldn't have had Huntington poking around blindfolded in the trade market's bargain aisle instead of swashbuckling with a billfold for established pennant-race talent.

If Nutting wanted to be able to hold off the small market Milwaukee Brewers in this dubious wild-card competition, he could have paid the going rate for a viable player that Hurdle could look to with confidence on his bench rather than being forced to pinch hit overmatched minor leaguers like Jeff Clement and Jordy Mercer.

Wednesday night's desperate hours starter was Class AA standout Kyle McPherson. He pitched four-plus uphill innings like a Class AA standout. Problem was, this is the big leagues.


But Nutting doesn't do those kinds of things, those decisive competitive, real baseball things. Not now and probably not ever.

There are now, for the record, two great false promises of the PNC Park era.

The first was the park itself, the House Untruth Built, which was that once the new revenue streams established by a modern stadium were in place, the Pirates could compete for division championships and more.

The second was that despite its doggedly and conveniently low payroll, once the club came toward a viable posture and had a chance to compete at the game's highest levels, the necessary cash would be coming forthwith.

Both are now demonstrably total bull.

My aunt wouldn't walk, but she might well have walked out on this.


Gene Collier:


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