The Road to 17 is a longer-form look at each losing season that the Pirates have had since their last playoff appearance in 1992. The object is not to wallow in the misery of the Pirates, but instead remember just what it is that makes us Pirate fans in the first place. Every team has their great moments, the Pirates’ are just fewer and further between. Today, we hit the eighth stop on the Road to 17: 2000.
It’s weird, but I can’t even remember the last game that I attended at Three Rivers Stadium. I have a million different memories of Pirate baseball, but most of them aren’t tied to this season at all. As Andy Van Slyke said when they asked him how he felt about the demolition of Three Rivers, “I’d push the button if they asked me to.” That’s not to say that I don’t have good memories of the place, because I certainly do. Three Rivers was where I saw my first game. It was a magical place when I was a little kid, the place where I’d hope I’d end up every time my parents said they had a surprise for me. It was where I’d hang out on Sunday afternoons with my best friend, heckling terrible players and just having an all-around good time.
Of course, most of my memories of those Sunday afternoons are of terrible baseball. If I have one memory of Shane Reynolds and the Astros thumping the Pirates into submission as temperatures climbed towards triple digits, I have a million. PNC Park was always a magical place of promise where things had to be better than they were at Three Rivers for people my age. How could they be worse?
Looking at the roster from 2000 is like looking at a who’s who of forgotten Pirates of the last 17 years. Some of my favorites:
- Bruce Aven, who we got straight up in a trade for Brant Brown (who we’d gotten straight up in a trade for John Lieber). Aven sucked, but like to wrestle alligators.
- Pat Meares was one year removed from playing 21 games as a Pirate and also, oddly, in the first year of a 3 year/$12 million contract extension. If you’re keeping track at home (or you just remember terrible parts of Pirate history), that means that he got his extension in a year that he barely played. Meares played in 130 games in 2000, which was the most he ever played as a Pirate.
- The aforementioned Alex Ramirez, currently the reigning MVP of Japan.
- Adam Hyzdu, high school teammate of Ken Griffey Jr. and unofficial mayor of Altoona, made his big-league debut.
- Luis Sojo, best remembered as a crappy utility guy for the Yankees played for the Pirates for part of the year. He somehow managed to hit a home run in three straight games against the Cubs in May (homer totaly on the year: five).
- Kris Benson had what was probably the best year of his career, striking out 184 and putting up a 3.85 ERA.
- John Wehner returned in time to hit the last home run in Three Rivers history.
The real story of 2000 is pretty similar to 1998; the failure to build on the promise of the year before. Brian Giles was a monster in 2000, Kendall bounced back nicely from his ankle injury, and Benson was solid in the rotation, but that was it. Warren Morris saw all of his power and promise from 1999 disappear, Kevin Young dropped from a 127 OPS+ to an 86 (and got an extension when the year ended!), the well dried up entirely for Francisco Cordova, Todd Ritchie lost all of his magic, Aramis Ramirez was asked to start too soon, I could go on forever.
Perhaps one of the odder 2000 subplots was the lame-duck status of Gene Lamont. Looking back now, he helmed the team during the two best seasons of this losing streak, 1997 and 1999, but the team refused to give him an extension during the 2000 season, turning him into an inept lame duck that was unable to control anything in the locker room. This is what eventually lead to the Lloyd McClendon era.
In a lot of ways, 2000 was the first year of the malaise the Pirates find themselves still mired in today. It was the first year of the senseless Pat Meares extension, it ended with the Kevin Young extension, and the team itself wasn’t very great because it was full of guys that had been over-valued by the front office, who were then surprised when they underperformed, even if they shouldn’t have been. Which is to say that I think that the reason that I don’t remember a lot about the Pirates’ 2000 season is that for the first time, it was really starting to feel like the Pirates had been losing for a long time.