Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"QUIET. GENIUS AT WORK"

Neal Huntington is starting to make my head spin. If nothing else, I'm sure that a lot more Bucco fans at the games are buying those $18 game programs that they hawk on your way into the game.

"PROGRAMS....GET YIR PIRIT PROGRAMS HERE" Who hasn't heard this halcyon cry as one of the earliest memories of their youth? How about this one. "BLENND. GET YIR REEMIRS BLENND. ICE COLD BLENND HERE."

If you've heard that one, you're starting to get up there. While they still make this delicious concentrate in Pittsburgh, I found that you can even buy it, like just about anything else...on line, $4.24 per bottle. But I obviously digress. Getting back to Neal Huntington...

This guy is the first true G.M. that the Pirates have had since Syd Thrift. He not only knows what a good player is built like, but he also seems to have a penchant for finding very strong-minded players who are very confident in their abilities and relaxed when they get the opportunity to show what they can do. I have seen so many examples of this that I can't even count them.

Take this new relief pitcher, Hanrahan as an example. He replaces Sean Burnett, a nice enough fellow, but one of those slightly-built type of guys who will never simply blow a ball past a batter as an "out pitch". This Hanrahan is built like a bull and looks to have the disposition of a rhino. He'll intimidate more than his share of hitters. Look at Charley Morton too. Does he resemble any pitchers that have been coming through the Pirates system over the last ten years? No way. The last guy the Pirates had that resembles him was John Smiley. Look at the job that "Mr. Wonderful", Russ Ohlendorf is doing. He just keeps getting better and better.

Even Zach Duke, a holdover from the Littlefield regime who was more resembling a batting practice pitcher or one of those guys who pitches in the home run derby during the All Star Game, has gotten his act together after a few years of wallowing in inept coaching. Huntington, with some help from John Russell, fixed that too.
NOW, ALL I KEEP SAYING IS, "KEEP IT UP NEAL!!!"

ABOVE: Nine months ago, I put this picture up on my sidebar with the admonition, "C'mon Neal, turn that ship around." It hasn't been pretty, for the players or the fans, but the progress that the Pirates have made as an entire organization has been astounding.

Of course, the baseball fans of Pittsburgh, a cynical, skeptical, downtrodden, group as there has ever been, are understandably upset because two of their favorites, first Nate McLouth and now Nyjer Morgan have been dealt. These were guys who wanted to win and worked hard. They played with enthusiasm too. So is Huntington crazy or is he trying to finish off alienating those remaining fans who haven't been run-off over the past 17 years?

I'm here to tell you that while I do not trust the Nutting family as owners, I cannot criticize even one move that Neal Huntington has made so far. He truly gets it as a G.M.. He realizes that you, "Buy low and sell high." In this last trade, for example, Nyjer Morgan is absolutely at the highest value in his career. Lastings Millidge, on the other hand is at the lowest. Nyjer Morgan is fast and does a nice job defensively. He has no power and actually gets caught stealing more than anyone in the National League despite his blazing speed.

Lastings Millidge, on the other hand, is one of those so-called "five-tool" guys that we haven't seen around here in a long time. Who knows what a change of scenery and the chance to play everyday could do for him? This trade could one day be called one of the greatest in Pirates history. Huntington is taking this chance on Millidge because he knows that his club at the major league level is woefully deficient in power. But Neal is working the lines feverishly, trying his best to undo as much of the damage as possible done by Dave Littlefield as quickly as possible.

All you have to do is look at the team that is on the field right now. It's younger than it's been in years and getting younger all the time. Once Huntington has a few more of his own drafts in the system and starts getting players out of the Dominican Republic, this franchise is going to get real healthy again, real fast. Notice that in spite of its' youth, this team is hanging in there. The pitching is vastly improved, the defense has been very solid. The base running, long a sore spot, has even greatly improved. The only part of the puzzle needing to be fixed is getting more power in the lineup.That can only be fixed by getting different people. Getting Millidge should help greatly and Pirate fans will soon find out that he's at least as good of a defensive player as Morgan.

The types of changes that Huntington has to make usually take place in much the same way that you watch paint dry, or grass grow. The type of lineup restructuring that we're seeing right now is not seen very often. In terms of Pirate seasons past, it's unprecedented since the late '50s.No wonder why the players are grousing, they have to buy programs now too!

Instead of complaining, the fans should be putting up signs all over PNC Park that say, "QUIET. GENIUS AT WORK."


ABOVE: Pirate fans should be bringing these to PNC Park with them.

As a Pirate fan who has suffered through 17 straight years of losing right alongside you, I can only say, "Give Neal a chance." This guy is knocking himself out to improve this organization. Now if we can just get the Nuttings to give him the money to work with, maybe someday this man could get us back to that National League Championship series that we couldn't seem to crack in the early '90s. With the rabid fan base that we have here, anything is possible.