Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Had a good, long talk with the new general manager yesterday after stopping him to ask a couple of formal questions. No recording was done, so I will not get into specifics, but I will say this:

Raise just about any topic imaginable with the man, and you will get a response that is intricate, multi-layered and detailed as can be. You can bring up a player's numbers, and he will cite his intangibles. You can bring up the intangibles, and he will cite numbers. You can bring up both of those, and he will talk about how the player might fit within the major-league lineup or the overall organizational depth chart. Or ballpark factors. Or age and experience level. Or how all of this relates to competing specifically within the Central Division.

It remains to be seen if Neal Huntington can turn words into deeds and plans into production, obviously. But one easily gets the impression that the days of the Pirates being utterly direction-less could be at an end.


DK, reading the article yesterday about how the Pirates intend to "reallocate" money to the minor leagues and scouting sections of the organization at the possible expense of the major-league level, my thought was this: Don't we want some level of stability with the players at the major-league level to allow the minor-league system the opportunity to develop while, at the same time, making the young, talented guys we draft earn their way to the majors?

Dan Finnegan of Bremerton, Wash.

KOVACEVIC: The Pirates sound an awful lot like they want to have their cake and eat it, too. But, as the one veteran in the piece pointed out, that will not be easy.

The issues you raise are valid ones, Dan, but do not underestimate the pressure on everyone associated with the franchise on avoiding a terrible date with history next season.

More on that ...


You don't have to read between the lines to NOT hear anyone say "We want to win now." Will anyone ever utter those words in Pittsburgh?

Bob Sealy of Bellefonte, Pa.

KOVACEVIC: They are saying it, Bob. They definitely are saying it, to the extent that they specifically are raising to the players the goal of ending this losing streak at 15 years. That in and of itself already represents an upgrade on the previous regime, which would say nothing more than that they sought "improvement." The 68th victory Wednesday night, technically speaking, represented improvement.

But making the moves that shows an urgency to "win now," as you put it, hardly seems imminent. It is very clear that the new regime wants to prioritize the solidifying of the system, while pulling for the best at the major-league level.

There can be no doubt this will be unpopular.


I couldn't agree more with your assessment that it is essential that the Pirates reconnect to their proud history rather than attempt to become an imitation of another franchise.

When I saw the Pirates play the Yankees this year, the thing that struck me more than the poor pitching, lack of clutch hitting and complete lack of fundamentals was the vast differences in the makeups of the coaching staffs. When a trip to the mound was required, the Yanks sent out Ron Guidry. Sitting in the dugout as bench coach was Don Mattingly. We trotted out a bunch of guys that any fan over 30 associates with the Dodgers.

Cameo appearances by Maz and Bill Virdon at spring training are great but not even close to enough. Any ideas how we can reconnect with the past, or did we lose our last best shot to Detroit?

Gregg Bosak of Hoosick Falls, N.Y.

KOVACEVIC: There was much feedback to that intro yesterday, most of it -- but not all -- highly supportive of the concept

I write all the time that one of the greatest deterrents to success for the Pirates are the seven letters stitched across the front of their jerseys, and part of the reason for that is that the pride in the uniform is all but lost. This is not supposition on my part. These players grew up in an era in which your PBC is the butt of jokes at the local and national levels. That is all they know.

Somehow, some way, that has to be part of this "culture" change that the new management is espousing. Teach the new draft picks the history of the franchise. Show them film of the World Series teams, of Roberto Clemente's life, of anything and everything that made it special.

And yes, hire people on the baseball level in meaningful positions who remain proud to have been Pirates. I am not going to advocate here, but suffice it to say they are out there, some already very close to the team.


Dejan, I liked you opening yesterday on the need to re-establish a linkage to the Pirates' past. I'm sure you didn't get to hear it because you were covering the game, but Wednesday night's telecast had the announcers chatting with Chuck Tanner. When Steve Blass commented that Tanner still wore his Pirates beach hat no matter what team he scouted for, Tanner responded that he always considered himself a Pirate and the reason he had never worked for the team after he left as a manager was that no one in the Pirates' front office had ever asked him to.

As a fan who grew up with the '79 Pirates and Chuck Tanner's infectious optimism, to hear him sadly acknowledge his disappointment that he couldn't stay affiliated with the team he loves, it makes me wonder if the current regime would be willing to find a way to add Chuck back to his "Family."

Bill Meyers of Arlington, Va.

KOVACEVIC: No one should be posing the question you just asked, Bill.

When describing a real, palpable, infectious pride in being associated with the Pirates, everyone on this planet stands in line behind Mr. Tanner.


Dejan, I'm a 47-year-old lifelong Pirates fan, but what I'm really looking for is somewhere that ALL of the "Things that make Pittsburgh great" items are located on the site. If you could let me (and others who I'm sure are just as interested) know, it would be greatly appreciated. I have searched the site, but cannot find all of your Q&As but they only go back a few weeks.

Thanks for your personal style, your clear and thoughtful approach to the Pirates, and for sharing your love of the city.

Vincent Gallo of Butler

KOVACEVIC: That is much appreciated on all counts, Vince. The editors have been working on compiling those Pittsburgh things into one file that will be a click away at some point soon.

Apologies to the many others who have asked the same question without getting a response but, hopefully, this addresses it.

I remain genuinely mystified that anybody would want to read a compendium of something done so off the cuff and with so little research -- other than actually living here, of course -- but we should have it done soon.

In the meantime, I can recommend all kinds of quality literature that is an infinitely better guide to your city, depending on your specific interests. Just fire off an email for a list, and I promise to get back to you at some point after the club is done playing.

Until Monday, when we will have the final chat of 2007 the day after the season ends. The Q&As will continue through next week, beginning Tuesday.

Oh, and reader Dave John of New York, with the help of a Lexis search, was able to uncover that account of the ridiculous high school football game that I cited recently as being one of the best sporting events I ever covered. It is reprinted in its entirety below, dangling modifiers and all ...

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: November 13, 1994

Riverview survives wild finish, 34-28

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Jake Cappa stood in disbelief after his Riverview Raiders pulled out a wild, 34-28 overtime victory over Jefferson-Morgan. Oblivious to the celebrating going on around him and, for a moment, to reporters' questions, he turned to one and said:

''Did we win this game?''

The Raiders' coach might still need a couple more days to let this one sink in.

Yesterday's WPIAL Class A first-round match between the top-ranked Raiders and visiting Jefferson-Morgan was a classic.

A glance at the last few minutes:

-- Jefferson-Morgan had a 28-15 lead with two minutes left, but Riverview's Jeff Cappa threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Ben Erdeljac on fourth-and-7 to make it 28-22.

-- Jefferson-Morgan got the ball back following the kickoff and marched to the Riverview 4 with 47 seconds left. Riverview had no timeouts left, but the Rockets chose to run a play on first down. Mike McCort ran to the middle of the line and fumbled. Riverview recovered.

-- On the next play, Jeff Cappa threw up a bomb that hit a streaking Erdeljac down the right sideline for a 96-yard touchdown, tying the game at 28-28 with 36 seconds left.

-- The Raiders were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for the ensuing celebration, pushing the extra-point kick back 15 yards. Orlando Bellisario missed to the left, forcing overtime.

-- Each team gets four plays from the 10-yard line in overtime. Jefferson-Morgan moved backward five yards on its four tries. Riverview got no yardage on its first two attempts, but on third down, Jeff Cappa connected on a pass to brother Jason at the right side of the end zone.

All of which left one burning question:

Why didn't Jefferson-Morgan kneel on the ball at the Riverview 4 and run out the clock?

''He's our best football player,'' Jefferson-Morgan coach Jan Haiden said of McCort. ''We wanted to get the points right there. Mike hadn't fumbled all year, in 181 carries going into this game.''

Asked if he would fall on the ball if he had the play over again, Haiden said, ''Probably not. We've never had a problem with fumbles. Why do anything different right there?''

The Rockets (7-4) were decided underdogs to Riverview (11-0), the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class A team. And Jake Cappa had nothing but praise afterward for Jefferson-Morgan, including Haiden.

''I will not second-guess Jan's coaching,'' Cappa said. ''He did a great job preparing his team for this game. If he scores a touchdown there, that sends a powerful message to his next opponent. It shows them that they beat the No. 1 team by two touchdowns.''

Cappa ran across the field immediately after the overtime and talked to Haiden.

''I told him he did a great job coaching,'' Cappa said. ''And I told him they deserved better.''

Indeed, it looked like Jefferson-Morgan -- and McCort -- would get a better ending.

McCort, the 5-7, 155-pound firecracker in the Rockets' offense, had little trouble squirting through holes in the Riverview line. He gained 189 yards on 25 carries.

The rest of the Rockets kept pace. They finished with 407 yards total offense and held Riverview's offense in check until the big-play finish.

Riverview got strong outings from running back Steve Dapra, who got 112 yards on 13 carries, and quarterback Jeff Cappa, who completed 8 of 16 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns.

Jefferson-Morgan had a 14-0 halftime lead after a 35-yard run by McCort and a 60-yard pass from Scott Whetsell to Nathan Hassett. Riverview scored late in the third quarter on Jeff Cappa's 6-yard run, but a minute later, Xavier Lockette streaked 72 yards down the left sideline for a 21-7 Rockets advantage.

With 8:19 left in the game, Riverview cut the lead to 21-15 on Jeff Cappa's 6-yard strike to Jason Cappa. But again, Jefferson-Morgan answered, this time on McCort's touchdown reception with 4:06 left.

Then came the finish -- one that left coaches, players and fans exasperated.

After the winning touchdown, the fans at Riverside Park poured out of the bleachers and mobbed the end zone. Many Jefferson-Morgan players fell to the ground, some with tears flowing. McCort knelt at midfield on his helmet as Riverview players walked by to console and congratulate him.

''I'm proud of my kids,'' Haiden said. ''We never got any respect all year, and we played a great game today. Mike had an excellent game. It just wasn't in the cards.''

Cappa seemed more shocked than jubilant.

''I don't do any drugs, but this must be what it feels like,'' he said, barely breaking into a laugh. ''This is easily the greatest high school football game I've ever been a part of.''

He then paused, shook his head and added, ''But I don't ever want to go through anything like this again.''


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