Friday, December 28, 2007

Catching up with ex-Bucs

There aren't too many actual baseball events happening at this time of year. That said, it's a good time for figuring out whatever happened to that guy, you know the one...

*Longtime Bucco starter Josh Fogg is being honored today by the city of Margate, Florida (pop. ~55,000). Fogg, who was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Margate, is going to receive the key to the city. He's also being inducted into his high school's hall of fame next month. Fogg certainly drove me crazy with his patented five-inning/three-run starts while he played for the Pirates, but he took his game up a notch last year, and it's nice to see him achieve some measure of recognition for that.

*Lefty reliever Mike Johnston, who received a lot of publicity for his battle with Tourette's Syndrome, is apparently providing baseball instruction for young players this offseason up in Altoona, at $30-40 per half-hour session. Could be interesting, if you live in that area and have a kid who's got the right age and interests. Johnston's under contract with the Padres this year, and he claims that he's fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum, which is what knocked him off our 40-man roster in the first place. I hope he's right; he had good stuff and an intimidating mound presence when he first came up in '04 (though command was a definite issue). SD's probably not a bad place to try and turn your career around, if you're a rehabbing pitcher.

*I had never heard of Denny Kravitz, but some of my older readers might remember him. He spent five years as a backup catcher for some pretty marginal Pirates teams in the '50s, and then unfortunately just missed out on the 1960 World Series champs due to a midseason trade to baseball purgatory in Kansas City. He has some interesting recollections in this profile in the fairly obscure Towanda Daily and Sunday Review. He's a good example of the type of player Branch Rickey used to find by focusing on "quality through quantity": There weren't any Little League teams in his area, and his high school didn't have a team, so he played as a 15-year-old in a local semi-pro outfit for adults, attracted the attention of a scout, and then rode a bus all the way down to Alabama to compete with 600 other kids at a tryout camp.

*Dave Parker is still pushing his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. He certainly had Hall of Fame ability before he entered his cocaine period, but the production he lost to his drug use pushes him back down with the other borderline cases like Jim Rice and Dale Murphy. I find Parker interesting in some ways, in that there's a real generational split among Pittsburghers in their opinions of him. To Pirate fans of a certain age, he is and always will be representative of everything they consider to be wrong with baseball: the millionaire athlete who lets himself get fat and lazy and decadent, out of a sense of entitlement. There's also the race issue, which is a real third rail (and not one I'm going to do more than acknowledge in a casual post like this one). For fans a few years younger, though, he's just another player from the team's past, and if they have any feelings about him, they're vague and largely positive. To a great extent, I think that Parker's gradual public rehabilitation here (aided by the franchise, which has used him as an instructor during spring training) is a reasonable historical analogue for the future trajectory of public sentiment about Barry Bonds.

I should also say that I find it somewhat unbecoming when guys overtly lobby for votes in the HoF. You had a hell of a career regardless of whether the BBWAA votes for you or not; there's no need to demean yourself by pandering to the voters. Real fans will remember your glory days with or without a plaque to prompt them.

*Speaking of the PEDs, ESPN just ran an interesting piece where ex-player Shane Monahan talks about steroids and amphetamines in baseball, as well as his use thereof. Monahan never played for the Pirates in the majors, but he very well could've, since he spent 2001 with the team's affiliates in Altoona and Nashville. That 2001 team was pretty desperate for outfield help: We gave OF starts to guys who'd never played it before (Jason Kendall, Craig Wilson, Rob Mackowiak), guys we'd just claimed on waivers (Gary Matthews, Jr.), and guys who were basically just warm bodies in a time of need (Andy Barkett). [Note: I mean no disrespect to Barkett, who worked his ass off to get his shot, and actually acquitted himself quite well during his time in tthe majors. He's one of my favorite scrubs.]

*Beloved ex-figurehead Kevin McClatchy is apparently losing his shirt in the newspaper business lately. I'd weep and rend my garments, but I've misplaced my handkerchief and I appear to be posting blog content in the nude. God bless new media!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Forgotten Bucco History - Signing Gino Cimoli

I was flipping through Kevin Kerrane's excellent book "Dollar Sign on the Muscle" on my lunch hour, and I ran across this classic narrative by longtime Pirate scout Howie Haak about scouting and signing Pirate outfielder Gino Cimoli:

Gino's mother didn't want him to leave home. And Joe Devine, the Yankee scout, figured he had Cimoli locked because he told her the Yankees would let Gino start out right there in San Francisco. So in December of 1948 I called Rickey to let him know al this, and he said, "Can you strengthen his father's backbone through his stomach?" I said, "You want me to get Mr. Cimoli drunk?" He said, "I didn't say that." I said, "Well, when you get my expense report there's gonna be some entries on there for Ancient Age."

Gino's father worked from four to midnight, and for four days I went over to their house every morning at eight o'clock with two bottles of Ancient Age. I'd sit there and drink with him - because coffee kills me; I can't drink coffee - and then I'd drive him to work. Then Gino and I would go to a show, and then I'd go back to the house with him and wait till his father got home, and I'd stay till the last scout's car had left - about three in the morning. I knew I couldn't sell Mrs. Cimoli, so I bore down on the father.

After the fourth day I said, "Mr. Cimoli, who wears the pants in your family?" He said, "I do." I said, "I don't believe it. Gino wants to sign with Brooklyn for twelve thousand dollars, and you want him to sign, and your wife's holdin' up the whole deal." He said, "She's not holdin' it up another minute!" So he staggered up and got her out of bed - she was wearin' one of those old nightcaps women used to wear and a great big kimono - and he said, "Go wake Gino up. We're gonna sign this contract right now!"

Both Rickey and Haak were working for the Dodgers at that point, but Rickey became the Pirates' GM in 1950, and Haak followed his boss to Pittsburgh. Rickey was gone by 1955, but Haak stayed with the Bucs, to the team's great benefit. He's the guy who recommended that the team take Roberto Clemente in the Rule 5 draft, and he basically invented the practice of Latin American scouting, signing guys like Manny Sanguillen and Omar Moreno for the Pirates. He died in 1999. Cimoli wore black and gold in 1960 and 1961, and he played a key role in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, starting the Bucs' eighth-inning rally with a single right before Virdon hit Kubek in the throat with that bad-hop grounder.

If you need a last-minute gift for a baseball fan, I can't recommend "Dollar Sign on the Muscle" highly enough. It's still the best book ever written about baseball scouting, and it's right up there with "You Gotta Have Wa" and "Veeck as in Wreck" as one of my all-time favorites.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Argh, it burns!

The site is still basically in an open beta, and that goes double for anything related to layout or appearance. Public sentiment against the black-on-black was near-universal, which I can certainly understand after looking at the site on my work system. At the time I'm posting this, we're currently set for eye-gouging yellow on the background, but with any luck there should be a more palatable combination in place by dinner time.

Baseball down under

As a native son of Melbourne, I've always had a soft spot for baseball in Australia. As such, here are a few Pirate-related tibits on the subject.

* In the (admittedly unlikely) scenario that this blog has already attracted one or more readers in Australia, you'll get a chance for a sneak peek at our top pick in the minor league portion of this year's Rule 5 draft. Josh "Shaggy" Hill is going back to Australia this offseason for the first time in two years, to compete in the annual Claxton Shield competition. He and his wife Tiara (cool name) apparently had their first child two months ago, a boy named Jameson, so congratulations on that. I also spotted some footage of Hill pitching, in case you want to try out your scouting chops. I'm not an expert by any means, but it looks like he might be throwing across his body a bit there; the angle makes it hard to tell for sure, though.
* Longtime Pirates minor leaguer Brett Roneberg (a member of the Altoona Curve in '03, '06, and '07) will also be playing in the Claxton Shield. I know that he's been a member of the Queensland Rams in the past, but I don't know whether that's the case this time around or not. According to an article in the Cairns Post, he has a standing offer from the Pirates for 2008, but is also thinking about playing in Korea. As always, the best site for Roneberg-related info is the page run by his parents.
* While I was fooling around on the ABF website, I was rather startled by this article. The Pirates Baseball Club in question is not ours, but rather these fellas, who appear to be a sort of umbrella organization providing facilities for amateur clubs of different age and skill levels. Anyway, it got me thinking: We don't have any really good mustaches on the team right now, which is kind of a shame. I grew up watching the luxuriant lip-floss of Sid Bream and Don Slaught and Jim Leyland on TV, and nothing good can come of this break from baseball tradition. With all the minor league free agent bodies we're going to be hauling in this offseason, we should make a point of finding at least one with "the good face" to stash at AAA, so that we'll have a secret weapon on Turn Back the Clock Night.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Catching rumor of the day

With us linked to basically every veteran catcher on the market at this point (Michael Barrett, Johnny Estrada, Damian Miller, Miguel Olivo, etc.), I was kind of intrigued by the latest possibility floated in the San Diego papers:

The Astros gleaned that the Padres were willing to swap Double-A catcher Nick Hundley for corner outfielder Luke Scott, later dealt to the Orioles. Hundley might fetch Pirates corner outfielder Xavier Nady, whose right-handed power appeals to Towers. -Tom Krasovic, San Diego Union-Tribune

Hundley was San Diego's second-round pick in 2005, out of the University of Arizona. Coming into the season, Baseball America rated him as the Padres' #8 overall prospect, though he didn't make their Top 10 for 2008. He spent last season in AA, where he hit .247/.324/.475, and his defensive skills are regarded as strong (particularly his throwing arm). To my knowledge, he's not related to ex-ML catcher (and steroid cheat) Todd Hundley.

We can probably substitute Pearce for Nady in RF without missing much, if anything, and between Josh Bard, Colt Morton, and Mitch Canham, the Padres have enough catching depth to deal Hundley. I'm not sure that it's entirely equitable as a 1-for-1 swap, but it's not a bad starting point for discussions, and it's certainly more interesting than some ideas I've seen floated in the press.

C.J. Nitkowski on the Mitchell report

I spotted this AP piece by former Pirates minor leaguer C.J. Nitkowski, and I figured it was worth passing along. You may remember Nitkowski from his Bucs Dugout interview earlier this year. Nitkowski also has a pretty good blog, and from what I've been able to gather over the years, he's one of the nicest and most forthright people in baseball. If he's willing to vouch for McNamee, then I have to give that endorsement pretty serious weight. Your own mileage may vary, of course.

Comings and goings

* Running a few steps ahead of a torch-wielding mob, former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield was welcomed into the friendly confines of Wrigley Field today. His new position as a "scout" may seem like a step backward from a career standpoint, but any port looks good in a storm. The Cubs obviously owed him a debt of gratitude after the Aramis Ramirez giveaway, and they could probably see a reasonable return on any investment in Littlefield by soliciting his opinion on baseball matters and then taking the exact opposite course of action.

* In other staffing news, the Pirates have added four new members to their minor league staff. Dejan has all the details. Carlos Garcia's name should probably be familiar to most Pirate fans, and as Dejan's article notes, there's a Cleveland connection to his hiring as well. Kimera Bartee basically built a ten-year pro career around running and throwing, so in that respect he's at least an interesting choice as outfield and baserunning coordinator. Troy Buckley was the college pitching coach of Jared Hughes, our fourth-round draft pick in 2006, and he had worked with Huntington on the Expos' minor league staff. BA has an interesting post about Buckley here. He's saying the right things, and while that isn't enough in and of itself, it's certainly an improvement on some past hires (like Jeff Manto).

* Ex-Pirate prospect Javier Guzman (see Wilbur's report here) signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves. On the one hand, this is mildly disappointing, in that the Pirates already had little middle infield depth in the minors, and now we're losing a guy who spent several years on the 40-man roster. On the other hand, Guzman has never shown much promise with the bat since his 2004 campaign at Hickory, his fielding remains wildly inconsistent, and the Dominican visa scandal revealed him as being two years older than everybody had previously thought (although most web sources haven't taken note of the change - the Altoona Curve's website being one notable exception).

* Finally, it appears that the Pirates' AAA affiliate isn't going anywhere. The Indianapolis Indians are turning record profits, and they're giving signs that they'd like to extend their agreement with the Pirates when the existing deal expires after the 2008 season. Having good minor league affiliates is important for a number of reasons:
  A reasonable geographical location allows for quicker turnaround times on promotions, while also making it easier for minor league staff to travel between affiliates to evaluate and compare notes (we had gotten burned in this area a few years back, when our AAA affiliate was all the way up in Calgary).
  A neutral park and league environment makes it easier to evaluate players and teach them good habits; conversely, a skewed environment (like High Desert in the A+ Cal League) teaches players bad habits and makes it harder to sort prospects from suspects.
  A high-quality home stadium with good facilities makes it easier to attract quality minor league free agents.
All that aside, it's not entirely a good thing that the Indians are so happy with us. They like being our affiliate in large part because we've given them competitive rosters, and we've given them such competitive rosters because we haven't had many actual prospects to promote to AAA, and as such have had to make due with large amounts of (productive) veteran filler. Hopefully, they'll be happy with us in the future... but not ecstatic.

Hello, world.

This is, or at least will be, a blog about the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the many and various frustrations of being one of their fans. I apologize for the generally unrefined state of things at the present time. I've wanted to start a Pirates blog for several years now, and up until this point I've always managed to avoid doing so by getting tied up in minutiae of the site layout, or the exact tone of the mission statement at the blog's start. No more. The writing starts today, and if things aren't as polished as they might have been, such is life.

I hope you're willing to take it as you find it, and that you like it enough here to stick around.