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My Thoughts on the Protest

UPDATE: Today's game thread is below this one for now.

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The protest is a great idea, and I hope it goes well.

At this point, it should be obvious to everyone that the Pirates' ownership and management are dishonest, greedy, fan-unfriendly, bad for the Pirates franchise, and a direct cause of the Pirates' impossibly long streak of losing seasons. I could attempt to convince you of that, but here I'm going to assume that it's self-evident. If you still need convincing, feel free to go back through the archives here or at Irate Fans or OnlyBucs or at the Post-Gazette. The evidence is overwhelming.

So, given that the owners are bad and that we want them to make serious changes or leave, the issue is how to convince them to do so.

In response to this protest, many fans and mainstream media commentators have opined that the only sensible way to stop the Nuttings is to refuse to give them any more money. Although I think boycotting is a perfectly logical reaction to the ownership's greed, I won't be doing so, and there are three main reasons why I think protests like this weekend's may be an even better course of action.

-P- First, this ownership group is not this franchise. The Pirates franchise goes back over a hundred years, with a history that includes five World Series wins and Hall of Famers like Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, Ralph Kiner and many others.

What do Robert Nutting and Kevin McClatchy have to do with any of that? Absolutely nothing. McClatchy and company don't even have anything to do with the Bonds-Bonilla-Van Slyke Pirates that hooked me on the team when I was a kid.

Several years ago, I consciously attempted to become a fan of a baseball team more worthy of my time and money - the A's, the Red Sox, the Padres, whomever. All these attempts failed, and at some point I stopped trying and started writing a blog instead.

The reason why these attempts failed is that there are certain kinds of fandom that cannot be confined to a particular season or decade. I'm a fan of the Pirates because I got to watch games in Three Rivers Stadium with my dad when I was a kid, and because I got to read about Clemente and watch tape of his throws from the outfield, and because I grew attached to Bonilla and Bonds and Van Slyke and Drabek.

There aren't any cognitive gymnastics I can do to change that, and I don't think I should have to. My fandom has nothing to do with losers like Nutting and McClatchy and Dave Littlefield; it has to do with where I grew up and the experiences I had as a kid.

So, while Nutting and company can legally buy the franchise and collect money from the people coming through the turnstiles, they can't really buy the franchise in any real sense - the franchise is weighted with history that the Nuttings (fortunately!) can't erase. My enjoyment of Pirates games now has much more to do with the history of the team than with the players the current management has chosen to put on the field.

So the question for me is this: Given that I am dissatisfied with the way the Pirates are currently run, why should I have to give up on going to the games or watching the games on TV or watching them on, all of which earn money for the Nuttings? Why should I have to turn my back on a franchise that carries the legacy of Clemente and Stargell just because the current owners are jerks? I grant that it's unfortunate that I'm giving them money, but I feel like by giving up on the team, I'm turning my back on a legacy of memorable players and great baseball that has absolutely nothing to do with Nutting and McClatchy. The franchise is legally theirs, but the franchise can never really be theirs.

-P- Second, if you look at American history, many of the most effective instances of social change have resulted from courses of action that weren't boycotts. I don't want to list examples here for fear of appearing to compare our situation to events in history that are far more serious than the plight of a baseball team. But it just isn't true that protesting with your money is the only option, and neither is it automatically true that it's the best one.

For one thing, construing protest in such a narrow way empowers those who have the most money to spend in the first place. Which is an especially relevant point in this particular case, since a big part of the Pirates' problem has to do with the fact that they get enormous revenue-sharing checks despite refusing to spend money to compete.

If 10,000 fans buy tickets for around $15 apiece for Saturday's game just to tell Nutting what a greedy little jerk he is, that may be ironic, but it's a less than a drop in the bucket compared to the $25 million the Pirates got in June 2006 from revenue sharing. I hate the phrase "raising awareness," but I think that what will be gained by raising awareness on a national level - and this protest should earn the fans some national attention - is well worth the cost. Enough attention, and maybe the people who sign those revenue sharing checks will put some pressure on the Pirates' owners.

-P- Here's another reason to support the protest: The Pirates hate it. They've already sent that message loud and clear. Do you think they'd have told their TV announcers not to acknowledge it if it didn't bother them? Do you think they would have gone all Glavlit on the message board of their official website? No way. So would a well-run, well-attended protest hurt them? I don't know, but they sure seem to think so!

If you can go to the game on Saturday, I hope you will, and I hope you'll wear green. The protest begins at 5:00 PM on Federal Street.