The Road to 17 is a 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 thirteenth stop on the Road to 17: 2005
I was going to say that I can’t believe that we’ve hit 2005 already, but it occurs to me that these started running on October 27th and this series will take more than three months to wrap up, which certainly makes it the longest running series in the near four-year history of this blog. Which means, as you realize if you’ve done your math, that I’m now chronicling the losing during the season in which WHYGAVS was born.
The 2005 Pittsburgh Pirate team was not one that should’ve inspired anything. Jason Kendall was traded in the off-season and everyone roundly agreed that the financial freedom brought about by that move meant that the Pirates were more or less officially Dave Littlefield’s. He and Lloyd McClendon celebrated by getting together with the dumbest computer program in history, running his players through it, and getting this starting lineup for Opening Day:
- Matt Lawton, RF
- Jack Wilson, SS
- Tike Redman, CF
- Jason Bay, LF
- Daryle Ward, 1B
- Ty Wigginton, 3B
- Jose Castillo, 2B
- Benito Santiago, C
- Oliver Perez, P
It likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise that THAT lineup lost 9-2 to the Brewers. But doesn’t just looking at it bring back a wash of 2005 era memories?
I mean, right at the top we’ve got Matt Lawton. Matt Lawton and his crooked cap, who would stand in right field and not respond when you’d yell his name, but who would cock his head back with a grin if you yelled out, “HEY! FITTY! WHAT’S UP!” Lawton was part of the Jason Kendall trade and he actually hit pretty respectably at the top of the order for the Pirates in 2005 with his .366 OBP and his ability to loop balls over the Clemente Wall in right. Of course, he may have also been the worst fundamentally sound right fielder that I ever saw play at PNC. Given that our regular seats are right on the right field wall and I was a regular in those seats the first seven years PNC existed, I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of this. Law-dawg (as he called himself in his scoreboard art-work, which also debuted that year) was the master of misplaying flyouts into triples. It was frustrating, to say the very least. We traded him at the trade deadline that year for Jody Gerut’s knee brace, so I guess things could’ve been worse.
Of course, the way 2005 began was awful. Oliver Perez showed up in camp out of shape and arm troubles from, if I recall correctly, what he claimed came from sleeping on his arm wrong. His velocity was way down and he had no control at all when the season started. He only made two starts that even approached what he did in 2004 and in June, he kicked a laundry cart in a fit of rage and broke his toe. Honestly, when I read that I still have a hard time believing that it happened.
That’s how I feel about most of 2005, really. Do you remember the Pirates pulling to 30-30 in early June with an 18-2 trouncing of Tampa, only to lose the chance to go above .500 with a Matt Lawton base running error the next day, then roll into five ugly losses in six games against the Red Sox and Yankees? What about Ty Wigginton bull-dozing anything that got in his way on the base paths? Or Michael Restovich? Or David Ross? Or yet another hot start (.940 OPS on May 27th) and huge fizzle (.649 the rest of the way) from Rob Mackowiak?
And that’s more or less what 2005 was like. There were some interesting story lines, there were some good games, but ultimately, the season was a disappointing mishmash of bad baseball. Sadly, it happened in Jason Bay’s career year, when he hit .306/.402/.558, whacked 32 homers, stole 21 bases in 22 attempts, and finished 6th in the whole league in VORP. Bay’s had good years since then, but he’s never matched what he did in 2005. Pittsburgh has swallowed several great careers in the past seventeen seasons, and while Bay got out quicker than Brian Giles and Jason Kendall, it’s still a shame that his best years happened in obscurity.
Of course, hope springs eternal. 2005 was bad enough to cost Lloyd McClendon his job, but the second half was marked by Zach Duke and Paul Maholm showing up and dominating their first turn around the National League, with Duke putting up a 1.81 ERA in his first 84 2/3 innings and Maholm following closely behind in his 40+. Both were extremely adept at putting runners on base and getting out of innings and that really helped their numbers look more impressive than the two of them really were, but when you’re a Pirate fan, all you really ask for is hope.
Despite Duke and Maholm, things started to look pretty hopelessin 2005. Maybe it was because I started my blog that year and really began to take a close look at things, but 2005 was certainly the year that I, as a fan, began thinking “maybe next year will be the year.” By 2005, it was starting to become obvious that Littlefield wasn’t accumulating the talent necessary to rebuild the team. Sean Burnett and John Van Benschoten, who were both very promising talents once upon a time, missed the whole season with arm problems. Littlefield’s first draft pick to make it to the majors was Brad Eldred and while he thumped an impressive 12 homers in 208 PAs, his OBP was just .279 and he struck out 77 times. Duke and Maholm looked great, but it was clear things were going the wrong direction.