Bob Smizik: If not Martin, who catches?

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This is the second edition of the latest Ask Bob series, where I answer questions posed by readers.

Rich Englehart: Assuming the Pirates can't or won't extend Russell Martin, what do you see them doing for a catcher next year and beyond? Personally, I like Tony Sanchez but just cannot see him as anything close to adequate defensively as an MLB catcher and given that he's not exactly new to the position am skeptical that he's going to overcome those shortcomings.

As I write this, Chris Stewart is batting .282 with a .674 OPS. If he could do that, he might be an acceptable alternative to Martin. But his career numbers are .224, .589 and they probably mirror more what he would do in a full-time role. So Stewart is not an ideal option as the primary catcher. Nor is Sanchez. I’m not quite sure where people get the idea he has an MLB-ready bat. Aside from 2013, his minor-league offensive numbers aren’t much. Because of his defensive shortcomings, I don’t even see him as an ideal option as a platoon catcher.

Based on a strong season at Class AA, Elias Diaz is viewed by some as the heir apparent. That's a bit of a stretch and he did not hit in brief playing time after being promoted to Indianapolis. In either case, he won't be ready for the start of the 2015 season.

Since signing Martin is pretty much out of the question, trading for a catcher is the Pirates best option. Acquiring a good catcher through a trade would not be easy. But that might be why general manager Neal Huntington was so reluctant to trade assets at the deadline this year. Perhaps he was hanging on to those assets for this offseason. That has to be the Pirates No. 1 priority in the offseason and they have to be prepared to trade quality prospects to acquire the catcher of the future.


Patrick Connell: An obscure Canadian hockey blog has named you as a dark horse candidate to replace Bug Selig as MLB Commish. A two-part question: 1. If elected, would you accept? 2. if you accepted, what things about the game would you change on your first day?

Unfortunately, the blog, ‘Winnipeg After Dark,’ blew the cover of my surprise candidacy and I withdrew rather than face the humiliation of losing to Rob Manfred.

My platform, which had attracted the attention of a surprisingly large number of owners, was simple: 1. Electronic calling of balls and strikes; 2. A gigantic scoreboard stopwatch that would monitor the pace of the game, particularly the pitcher; 3. The All-Star Game does not count toward World Series home-field advantage; 4. The assigning of timeouts for each team, which would have to be used for almost all stoppage of plays, including conferences on the mound (both from the bench and the catcher’s box) and for the batter stepping out of the box. 5. A salary that would be $1 more than what Bud Selig received. Under those conditions, I was prepared to accept -- but only if they allowed me to maintain this site.


Howard Weiss: Your blog always seems to have a lot of commenters. While I comment infrequently, reading your blog, with my morning coffee, is something I look forward to and that for me is a daily ritual. I recall for a while when the blog transitioned to Facebook comments took a dive. Can you tell how you feel that your blog has evolved from its pre-Facebook era to now?

From the standpoint of personal content, the site has changed little over the years. I try to write once a day, something I never would have aspired to when I was a full-time columnist at the P-G and usually writing three or four times a week.. Posting stories from other sites, obviously, has been discontinued and I know many enjoyed that feature. But moving from Community Voices to the home page of necessitated that change.

The comments have been up and down and up and down over the years. It took a while to gain a following at Community Voices and I never fully knew what the number of readers was, but I do know there was at least one month with 1 million hits.

I still have the last column and comments from the day the site, still at Community Voices, switched to Facebook. It pains me to look at it because I lost a lot of good, smart reader/commenters. I never could convince people that properly used Facebook can be harmless. Thankfully, there still remain a lot of good, smart reader/commenters. The numbers were slow to rebuild. I have zero idea of how many people are reading and/or commenting and don’t want to know. But it appears to be a healthy number and helps foster a site of which I am proud.


Rick Henderson: Knowing that each year, realistically there are only six or seven teams with a real chance to win the NCAA championship, what in your mind constitutes a successful season for the University of Pittsburgh basketball team?

Since NCAA basketball, like MLB, does not have a level playing field in terms of competitiveness, any expectations for Pitt must be tempered by that fact. I would say winning two games in the NCAA tournament is a reasonable expectation and a sign of a successful season.

Kevin Schafer: Who's your favorite and least favorite baseball radio/tv announcers throughout MLB? Who's your favorite national announcers for MLB, NFL, college football and basketball?

I listen to most Pirates games via the out-of-town announcers so I have a decent handle on which guys are good. I don’t even know the names of all these announcers. The Mets team of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin is the best for me. Rose is excellent as a play-by-play man and both he and Lewin are really tuned in to what’s going on with the team. It sounds to me like they spend a lot of time in the clubhouse. The Nationals announcers also are excellent. Really keep the listener involved in the game. There’s no attempt at clever banter (which usually isn’t) but a lot of good hard-core baseball talk. Jon Miller in San Francisco, as is well known, is very good. Ron Hughes in Chicago also is very good. Hughes is excellent at relaying the information on the field as it happens.

The worst, and it’s no contest, is Mike Shannon. He’s a St. Louis icon and he knows it and makes no attempt to call a good game. When something bad happens to St. Louis, he mumbles the information. The San Diego play-by-play announcer reminds me of Paul Harvey, of radio fame ( . . . and now you know the rest of the story.) and that’s not a compliment.

There so many really good national announcers but if I had to name one it would be Dan Shulman of ESPN. Both on baseball and college basketball he is spectacularly good.


Adam Haberman: Have you ever seen a general manager in Pittsburgh sports history who fell as far and as fast as Ray Shero? He was widely proclaimed as a genius in March 2013, GM of the year in June 2013 and unemployed in May 2014. Thinking back as late as game 1 against Boston in the 2013 playoffs, the idea of Shero losing his job within a year would have seemed incomprehensible to most.

Shero’s fall was indeed fast and far but he is not alone in a sudden dismissal among Pittsburgh sports executives. Syd Thrift never achieved the heights of Shero, who won a Stanley Cup, but no one saw his dismissal after the 1988 season when the team he had has almost totally rebuilt finished second in the NL East with 85 wins. Thrift might have been the GM for many years but he was a bit power hungry and he lost a struggle with, I believe, team president Mac Prine. It could have been Carl Barger, who succeeded Prine. Both were outstanding team presidents and which ever one Thrift challenged, he made a mistake that cost him his job.

Nor did anyone see the dismissal of Tom Donahoe as GM of the Steelers following the 1999 season. Like Thrift, he was in a power struggle but his was with Bill Cowher, not ownership. The two men truly did not like each other and Dan Rooney correctly figured their differences could not be bridged. What surprised many was that he fired Donahoe, not Cowher. As he usually does, and with all respect to Donahoe, Dan Rooney made the right decision.

But, as you suggest, Shero’s case, because of his success, was the most surprising.


Del Scott: Did you ever get the chance to meet Mario Lemieux? And if so at what part of his career was a player as an owner? And was it a personal meeting or were you working? And how did the meeting go and what was your take on him after the meeting?

I can't say Mario and I ever have been formally introduced, but I've interviewed him on countless occasions and have seen some of the highs and lows of his career. As is well known, he guards his privacy and only a select few in the media know him well. I am not among that small group.

Away from the games, I've never been around an athlete who project the aura that he does, and that includes Roberto Clemente. He owns the room and that has helped him achieve success off the ice that almost matches what he did on it.

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