Pirates must be held accountable

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The word we heard so often over the winter and into the spring from the new Pirates management was "accountability." It was, we were told, to be demanded from the players -- without exception.

Left unsaid was that too often in the past accountability had not been expected from Pirates players.

The phrase we most heard during that same span was "change the culture of losing."

Left unsaid was that previous administrations had not done enough in that direction.

So here we are almost three weeks into the new season and what's different?

No one expected the culture to be changed quickly, but nor have there been any radical attempts to do so. As for the accountability, an area where it's easier to show fans concrete examples, there seems to be nothing different in terms of demands on the players.

When the Pirates stressed accountability -- and we're talking about president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell -- it left the impression there would be no putting up with bad attitudes and sloppy play, that there would be repercussions for those who did not do as they were supposed to do.

The accountability factor was stressed so much it left some people expecting in-game tirades from Russell at non-performing players. There is a segment of the fan base that would love to see the manager on the top step of the dugout berating offending players as they come off the field. That wasn't going to happen, nor should it. No one, be it a player making millions, a teacher, a newspaper reporter or a construction worker, should be treated in such a manner. Public humiliation of any kind is not the way to go. It might have worked 40 years ago; it doesn't work today.

But shouldn't there be -- especially considering all the talk about accountability -- something done or said about the level of play when it often has been unacceptable?

We're talking about the other night in Los Angeles when third baseman Jose Bautista missed a tag on a rundown in which the Dodgers player basically gave himself up. Bautista was in so much of a hurry to get a possible second out on the play that he neglected to properly execute the tag -- as basic a fundamental as there is.

We're talking about Ryan Doumit nonchalanting it on a foul pop up close to home plate and dropping the ball last week in Los Angeles.

We're talking about Doumit trying to stretch a single into a double against Florida in the ninth inning of a one-run game and being an easy out.

We're talking about Bautista being picked off second base.

We're talking about Adam LaRoche commenting on all the double plays missed: "There's no error on that, but how many times have you seen it?"

None of these examples rise to the level of indifference exhibited by Joggin' Ronny Paulino last season, but considering the stress on accountability, they merited the kind of attention they did not receive.

And what about accountability on the part of management?

Based on a his spring training showing, the Pirates kept Luis Rivas on the roster as the backup middle infielder. Someone must have missed this fact: In 564 major league games, Rivas had played second base in 555 of them and shortstop only nine times. His unfamiliarity with the position was obvious as he repeatedly has embarrassed himself when playing it during Jack Wilson's absence from the lineup.

Changing the culture is a long process, but in the meantime there's been too much acceptance of losing.

We're talking about Russell excusing Brian Bixler's baserunning gaffe -- that cost the Pirates the game -- on opening day because Bixler was so inexperienced. That's an excuse that condones bad play. Bixler has been running 90-foot bases since high school. He should have known what to do.

We're talking about Russell saying after the same game, in which the Pirates came back from a large deficit only to lose in extra innings, "There are a lot of positives to take out of this."

Sure, there were positives, but you don't change the culture of losing by extolling positives in defeat.

We suggested a few months ago that a "honeymoon" period was in order for new management since it was not involved in the previous 15 years of losing. We stand by that. But at the same time Coonelly, Huntington and Russell must take steps to make sure their own ideas, the ones they pushed so hard, are properly implemented.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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