Perspectives: So, how about those Pirates?

We got PNC Park built with the promise of a decent team. The owners are doing well, but what about the fans?

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Two related news stories struck home last week that caused me to feel a tinge of outrage and also some embarrassment. The Pirates were the victims of a three-game sweep by a team considered to be the worst team in baseball, the Kansas City Royals. Meanwhile, the majority owners of the Pirates announced they would be purchasing Seven Spring Mountain Resort, reportedly worth about $100 million.

   

Bob Cranmer served as an Allegheny County commissioner from 1996 to 2000 (r.cranmer@comcast.net).

   

I couldn't help but think back to those heady days when we were putting together the "Plan B" financing package to build PNC Park for the Pirates. I and the others involved with designing the plan heard innumerable times that a new ballpark would enable the Pirates to generate the level of revenue required to field a winning team. I stood firm for months through a swirl of controversy determined to keep the Pirates in Pittsburgh, knowing what the team meant to Pittsburgh (and me), for so many years.

Setting these sentimental feelings aside, more than enough time has passed to demonstrate if the logic and justification for the initiative was correct. Apparently the owners of the team are doing pretty well from a financial standpoint and the additional revenue projected is being realized.

But what about that winning team we were promised?

In 1999 there were only four teams in Major League Baseball with a payroll less than the Pirates. The team won 78 games and lost 83, with an average or .484. In 2005 the team won 67 games and lost 95, with an average of .414. Two teams had a payroll that was less than the Pirates. This year (2006) the team is projected to win 57 games and lose 105, and only three teams have a smaller payroll.

With these numbers in hand, I'd like the Pirates to answer two very important questions that I, in particular, have every right to ask.

Where is the winning team?

And more important, what's the additional profit actually being used for? The revenue projections at the time certainly demonstrated on paper how the team could be competitive with a new park, but the Pirates still remain near the bottom when it come to performance and payroll.

Furthermore, it doesn't present a good picture to the fans when the majority owner appears to be more focused on sliding down a snow-covered mountain rather than a Pittsburgh Pirate sliding into home plate.

I took a tremendous amount of criticism for my role in "Plan B," and (as far as the Pirates are concerned), I'm beginning to wonder if it was worth the trouble and anguish. I had touted at the 1999 groundbreaking ceremony that we'd see a World Series played in PNC Park before 2010. But at this rate, it doesn't look like we're going to make it with this AAA team.

One of the greatest things I witnessed as a young boy was seeing Steve Blass pitch the final out of the 1971 World Series. That moment is what led me to support the Pirates. I believed what I was told and we delivered a great ballpark. Now I ask the Pirates ownership to deliver on their end of the bargain -- a winning team.



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