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Why the Pirates were easier to write about in the Dave Littlefield era

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Those were simpler times back in 2006, when former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield and the brain trust around him could be relied on once or twice a week to do or say something stupid. Littlefield's legacy includes both egregious missteps (trading Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for a bag of beans, albeit under extenuating circumstances; trading for Matt Morris' big contract) and a multitude of smaller ones (signing Randall Simon twice, failing to appreciate and exploit the skills of Craig Wilson).

It was easy to find things to write about back then. But what is a writer to do with the current regime, now getting noticed around baseball for its innovations in defensive positioning, its top-to-bottom organizational alignment around ground-ball pitchers who favor the low strike, its integration of data analysts into on-field decision-making, and most importantly, its commitment to a rebuilding plan that, in the face of torrential criticism and second-guessing, has now produced two consecutive postseason appearances, along with the credible promise of a third? Writing thrives on conflict--"if it bleeds, it leads"--and there is not much conflict in expressions of praise and appreciation.

There have been at least two instances this spring of puzzling, possibly unwise team decisions: trading Travis Snider for two uninspiring young pitchers and choosing Jeff Locke over Vance Worley for the role of fifth starter. Bob Smizik of the Post-Gazette, for whom 20+ years of organizational dysfunction reinforced a dispositional inclination toward carping and vitriol, continues to do what he does: lob grenades from the sidelines.

For years after they are granted their freedom, people who have spent 20 or more years in prison still look around for their trays at lunchtime. This affliction is not unique to writers. When two decades pass in which schadenfreude is the only pleasure available, it's human nature to cling to what is known, familiar, and reliable. When the Pirates lose and fail, there can be a conciliatory satisfaction in having expectations validated.

My son Cal and I were at a game in 2011 or 2012, and there was a guy sitting behind us who told us that he was a frequent contributor to the comment threads on Smizik's blog posts. In a voice that grew exponentially louder with every beer consumed, he delivered a running commentary on the game. When Hurdle removed the starter that day and replaced him with Evan Meek, who was still getting people out despite a couple of recent bad outings, the guy bellowed, "Oh great, Hurdle, bring in Evan Meek! I guess that's what Neal's compyoooter told you to do!" Cal turned around and released an ad hominem in the guy's direction, and I prepared myself to break up a fight between my son and another combatant for the first time since kindergarten. Fortunately, nothing materialized.

I got into a text exchange during the thick of the pennant race last year with an old friend who wanted to talk about how the Nuttings are stealing from the city. And maybe there's a case there. But when I lost interest and tried to steer the discussion toward the good things that were happening on the field, he accused me of "drinking the Kool-Aid." I'm pretty sure that he was disappointed when the Pirates made it to the postseason.

I am not saying here that there are never legitimate reasons to disagree with the Pirates' decisions, with how they do or don't spend money, or with how they configure the roster. There are, and questioning and disagreeing are part of the pleasure of being a baseball fan. But if 20+ years of losing have permanently extinguished the ability to enjoy a pennant race for its intrinsic pleasures, it might be time to take up another hobby.