Dejan Kovacevic today tried doing his own imitation of Snopes.com, publishing an article exploring the myth or reality of ten common perceptions about the Pirates. I'm sure he knew going in just how futile the whole exercise is, but I guess it's fortunate somebody out there still has an interest in separating fact from fantasy.
In the end, though, I expect he's just going to make everybody madder. It's too bad. If you're tired of the tinfoil hat stuff that dominates Pirates' coverage and commentary, you should be happy for this sort of writing. For instance, when the subject of the Pirates' profitability comes up, do we really want to be limited to the Smiziks and Bill Maddens of the world, who just breathlessly repeat the phrase, "PIRATES MAKE PROFITS WHILE LOSING!!!", as if the whole of MLB, including some other chronic losers, wasn't hugely profitable? Or is it better to have somebody point this out:
But some look at the Pirates' $5.4 million profit from 2009, combined with the team's $44 million payroll that year, and wonder if [a $70M payroll] is realistic.
Or when every single writer other than Dejan is busy selectively editing and completely mischaracterizing comments about payroll by Frank Coonelly, who is to PR what Dave Littlefield is to talent evaluation, isn't it better to have somebody willing to risk the anger of the pitchfork-waving masses by writing this:
The way Coonelly had expressed that beforehand -- and what he repeated Wednesday -- was that the first step of the process was the Pirates putting "a good, exciting team on the field," then hoping for bigger attendance, then using the additional revenue to raise payroll.
The one part of the article I have any real disagreement about is this:
Owners in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, the Pirates' market-size peers in the National League Central Division, have taken their player payrolls above $70 million the past two seasons while the Pirates have stayed below $50 million. The approach in those two cities has been to commit to payroll now, even if that means briefly going into the red, then reap the rewards later. Both should be contenders this year.
I don't think this is an accurate characterization of the Reds' and Brewers' spending pattern, at least to the extent that Dejan is contrasting it with the Pirates'. If you track the Brewers’ attendance, W/L record and payroll at www.baseball-reference.com, you'll see the Brewers followed exactly the same pattern Coonelly says the Pirates are trying to follow. The Brewers had an extremely low payroll when they were terrible and attendance was down. After they became competitive with a talented young team, attendance increased and payroll increased with it. Their payroll now exceeds that of the Pirates by roughly the same percentage that their attendance exceeds the Pirates. They appear to be taking more financial risks than the Pirates are now, but their owner acknowledges that they’ve been profitable in recent years. Now, whether the Pirates will follow their plan as they say is an open question. But people stating categorically that they won’t are just speculating. As the Brewers’ experience shows, the Pirates haven’t reached that point yet.
The Reds are a more complicated question, because they’ve never reached rock bottom the way the Brewers did and the Pirates have, so they haven’t faced the need for a full tear-down. Their attendance also hasn’t dropped to the Pirates’ levels. Still, their payroll has also roughly tracked attendance as well. With them as well as the Brewers, it’s not accurate to state that their spending pattern somehow contrasts with the Pirates’. All three teams are spending very much in proportion to their revenues, like the rest of MLB.