On the Pirates: An apple a day ...

Team's health, especially among pitchers, has been a plus in 2009



One look at all the injuries sustained by players recently traded by the Pirates, and it is enough make one wonder if there is some sort of pox upon them ...

Xavier Nady: Reconstructive elbow surgery, out almost all of this season.

Damaso Marte: Shoulder injury, out almost all of this season.

Nate McLouth: Injured hamstring, reinjured hamstring, disabled list.

Jack Wilson: Strained hamstring, missed a week.

Freddy Sanchez: Injured shoulder, reinjured shoulder, disabled list.

Nyjer Morgan: Mildly injured hamstring, broken finger and now out for the season.

What is that all about?

Is the Pirates' strength, athletic training and medical staff better than others?

Morgan broke his finger sliding into a base last week, and that would have been impossible for any staff to prevent, but the rest very much fall into the category of injuries resulting from conditions that can be diagnosed, stretched, strengthened or whatever treatment is necessary to keep the player from missing significant time.

The Pirates' disabled list for the year has had few such injuries: Tyler Yates was lost to major elbow surgery, and Jeff Karstens (lower back discomfort) and Evan Meek (strained oblique) each went on the disabled list the past two weeks. There have been six other placements on the DL: Three were for non-preventable injuries, one was for Craig Hansen's unusual nerve condition, and the other two were highly dubious DL assignments for Rule 5 pick Donnie Veal, aimed primarily at getting him more work in the minors.

Overall, according to general manager Neal Huntington, the Pirates rank among Major League Baseball's top 10 for fewest days lost to the DL.

Moreover, the key health area for any team is that of its starting pitching, and the Pirates' only three to stay on the roster wire to wire -- Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf -- have yet to miss a start.

"Overall we have had a solid season with respect to health," Huntington said, "and many people played a role in that positive outcome."

Those he cited are strength and conditioning coordinator Frank Velasquez, his assistant Kiyoshi Momose, athletic trainers Brad Henderson and Mike Sandoval, physical therapist Erwin Valencia, and the team physicians, Dr. Patrick DeMeo and Dr. Edward Snell. He also pointed to manager John Russell and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for their usage of pitchers.

One recently traded player -- not among the injured above -- praised the Pirates' staff effusively as compared to what he has seen elsewhere.

Best lineup in history?

"It's not like we're breaking up the '27 Yankees."

Those were Huntington's much publicized words after trading Wilson and Sanchez, but maybe he would have been more politically correct to reference the '25 Pirates.

The current issue of Sports Illustrated features a retrospective on Cincinnati's legendary Big Red Machine, in which author Joe Posnanski describes the 1975 Reds as having "the most famous lineup in history."

It is difficult to dispute ...

1. Pete Rose, 3B
2. Ken Griffey, RF
3. Joe Morgan, 2B
4. Johnny Bench, C
5. Tony Perez, 1B
6. George Foster, LF
7. Davey Concepcion, SS
8. Cesar Geromino, CF

So, which lineup would fit such a bill in the Pirates' history?

If "famous" is part of the criteria, along with production, the 1971 team that had three Hall of Famers -- Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and an older Bill Mazeroski on the bench -- as well as Al Oliver, Richie Hebner, Bob Robertson and Manny Sanguillen.

But, if based strictly on production, there is no peer for the phenomenally balance 1925 group that won the World Series against Washington ...

1. Eddie Moore, 2B
2. Max Carey, CF
3. Kiki Cuyler, LF
4. Clyde Barnhart, RF
5. Pie Traynor, 3B
6. Glenn Wright, SS
7. George Grantham, 1B
8. Earl Smith, C

Every one of the above batted at least .298, had at least 22 doubles, five of them had double-digit triples, and the team as a whole led the National League in just about every category. Four players finished in the top 11 in the league's MVP voting. Traynor was baseball's best third baseman until Mike Schmidt. Carey and Cuyler were in the Hall, as well. And the young shortstop Wright led the team with 18 home runs, 121 RBIs.

Alas, two years later, the Pirates were swept by those '27 Yankees in the World Series.

Antelope Academy

In his day, Omar Moreno led off many a rally for the Pirates.

Now, he is trying to get something far bigger started in his homeland.

"I'm trying to bring professional baseball to Panama by December of next year," Moreno said upon his recent visit to PNC Park. "There's a lot of talent in our country, and we just have to be organized. I think we can do it."

Time was, Panama produced many top talents, not least of which were Rod Carew, Moreno, Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett and others, but that dried up to a degree the past two decades. Now, Moreno is working directly with Panama President Ricardo Martinelli to establish a new paid circuit akin to those that are thriving in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Colombia, with an aim of including major leaguers over the winter.

Moreno already owns and operates a baseball academy in Panama City.

Uh ... he said ... uh ...

Major league players can have all kinds of extravagance in their lives, from fancy cars to watches to the latest in hi-tech gadgets.

Rookie reliever Steven Jackson has two pet ducks, and he named them Beavis and Butt-Head.

"I'm a big fan," he said of the classic MTV cartoon based on two adolescent buffoons. "Have all the DVDs. Watch them all the time."

Does he find them educational?

"Uh ... yeah."


Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published September 6, 2009 4:00 AM


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