Smizik: Success of Marlins, D-backs puts Pirates to shame

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Nothing quite accentuates the ineptitude of the Pirates' past 14 seasons than the appearance of the Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks. These fledgling franchises have had so much success in such a short period of time, it only serves to emphasize the massive failures of the Pirates. The organization must find it embarrassing.

What makes it doubly embarrassing is that the Pirates are in the midst of playing seven consecutive games with those teams. It wouldn't be a stretch to refer to the current string of games as the Humiliation Homestand.

That's an appropriate designation for baseball games matching a once-proud franchise -- 121 years in existence -- that has fallen so badly it cannot begin to measure up to two teams whose combined longevity doesn't equal a quarter of a century.

The Marlins and Diamondbacks might not have written the book on how to do it. But the Pirates have written the book on how not to do it.

And they did it again last night at PNC Park by blowing a five-run lead and losing, 9-8, to the Diamondbacks. A grand slam by Tony Clark off Marty McLeary tied the score for the Diamondbacks in the seventh, and they won it by scoring twice off Matt Capps in the eighth.

For 14 seasons, under two ownership groups, three general managers and four field managers, the Pirates have given new meaning to incompetence. Under the current ownership triumvirate of Bob Nutting, G. Ogden Nutting and Kevin McClatchy, there does not appear to be any end to the losing.

The Marlins and Diamondbacks have no such history. The Marlins played their first season in 1993, the Diamondbacks theirs in 1998. Both started with little more than rejects from other teams. The Marlins won 64 games their first season, 51 their second. By their fifth, they had won their first World Series. The Diamondbacks won 65 games their first year and 100 the next, along with the World Series.

In their 14 years of existence, the Marlins have won two World Series and have had four winning seasons. In their nine years of existence, the Diamondbacks have won one World Series and had five winning seasons.

By significant contrast, going back to the inception of the Marlins, the Pirates have neither won a World Series -- that's rich -- nor had a winning season.

During the same span, the Pirates have had five seasons of 90 or more losses. The Marlins have had three, the Diamondbacks one.

In their combined 23 seasons, the Marlins and Diamondbacks have won as many World Series as the Pirates have won in the past 81 years.

The success of the Marlins is particularly insulting because they are more small-market than the Pirates. Unlike the Pirates, the Marlins don't play in a facility widely regarded as the best baseball park in existence, which helps draw fans. Instead, they play in a football stadium, which deters fans from attending.

Playing in such a facility, the Marlins have a hard time attracting fans and consequently not only rank as one of the worst-drawing teams in the majors, but annually have one of the lowest payrolls.

The Diamondbacks, by contrast, have spent freely and, at times, recklessly in pursuit of success. Their willingness to pay whatever it takes and then some has much to do with their success.

What is even more exasperating for the Pirates and their fans is that the Marlins and Diamondbacks have some of the best young talent in baseball. The Diamondbacks have six prospects in Baseball America's top 100, including No. 9, 12 and 18. The Marlins, like the Pirates, have three in the top 100, but that's misleading. Many of the Marlins' best young players already are in at least their second major-league season and don't count as prospects. The Marlins' rookie class of 2006 is the deepest and possibly the best in baseball history.

The Pirates wasted a good performance last night by Tom Gorzelanny, who allowed two runs in six innings. Tracy's decision to bring in the right-handed McLeary, who, at age 32, was in his 12th major-league game, instead of left-handed Damaso Marte to face the switch-hitting Clark was a surprise. Clark hits right-handers and left-handers equally well. The difference is that Marte's earned run average was 0.71 and McLeary's was 7.36.

That's the way it has been for 14 years, and with no end in sight.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1468.


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