Bill Neal: ‘There’s no crying in baseball!’

How’s that 5-year plan looking for your Buccos?  


by Bill Neal, For New Pittsburgh Courier

:10—40-56. Let’s all say it together now, 40-56. Yeah, yeah, we’re in a 5-year plan of which this is year 2. Or 1 maybe. Hey, that Oneil Cruz kid can sure throw the ball! And Bryan Reynolds had a hot June before getting injured. Your Pittsburgh Pirates are mired in another abysmal season with no horizon to even speak of in their sight. Cruz looks completely overmatched at the plate, much like Jack Suwinski who was sent down after an 0-29 batting streak. The less said about the light-hitting Ke’Bryan Hayes, the better. Yes, he’s the front-runner for the Gold Glove at third base but has hit 4 home runs and .248 so far from a power bat position. Not enough, not enough.

:09—On the bright side, the Buccos are in third place in the NL Central Division, more a result of the woefully inadequate Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds as opposed to anything the Bucs have done. And they’re actually only the seventh worst team in baseball. Maybe that 5-year plan really is working.

:08—Aaron Judge of the free-spending New York Yankees is on pace to hit 61 home runs right now. If Judge gets to 62 do you place him in the record books beside all the steroid home run records? Baseball, as we all know, turned a blind eye to steroids to revive the game after the canceled World Series of 1994. And who didn’t enjoy watching Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez among many others launch 500-foot home runs with alarming regularity? I know I did and if these cats wanted to abuse their bodies to attain such results, who am I to say, years after the fact like MLB, tsk tsk, shame on you. MLB rode their coattails to record attendance and profits only to sanctimoniously throw them under the bus when they were no longer needed. Put them all in the Hall of Fame and quit bellyaching about it. I mean, c’mon man!!!

:07—Since we’re all baseball today in this column,  let’s get this out of the way. The 10 greatest hitters in baseball history are as follows – 1) Babe Ruth  2) Ted Williams  3) Hank Aaron  4) Willie Mays  5) Barry Bonds  6) Lou Gehrig  7) Joe DiMaggio  8) Albert Pujols  9) Ty Cobb  10) Alex Rodriguez. That’s the list. Live and learn. Yes, I left out Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston simply because there are no real reliable stats for them. Some say Josh Gibson hit 880 home runs but what stats we have bear little resemblance to such hyperbole. By all accounts Josh Gibson was phenomenal, as was Oscar Charleston, but their stats are based on 50, 60, 70-game seasons that we know of, maybe 100 games a year still missing. I hope more stats are turned up for these guys, their talent needs to be recognized in a more concrete way.

:06—The L.A. Dodgers’ payroll this season is $310 million. The N.Y. Mets’ payroll is $253 million. In third place, the N.Y. Yankees’ payroll is at $240 million. The Yankees and Dodgers are 12 1/2 and 11 1/2 games ahead in their respective divisions. The Mets are up over the defending World Series champs Atlanta Braves by only a game and a half but suffice it to say the spending disparity in MLB is a complete joke. The Pirates payroll is about $37 million, the third-lowest in MLB, only ahead of the Oakland A’s at $32 million and the Baltimore Orioles at $30 million. When do we think the Pirates, Orioles and A’s will be competing for a wild card, let alone a division title? A joke.

:05—The stadium is so nice. It’s a cheap night out on a nice summer evening. We got to see the Yankees and their powerhouse lineup this year at PNC Park. Blah, blah, blah. It’s all smoke and mirrors and 5-year plans people, that amount to a hill of beans. The cheap kind in a dented can with the plain wrapper slightly torn. And David Bednar will be gone by the trade deadline for a used fungo bat and a dirty bag of scuffed outfield balls.

:04—Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros is 13- 3 with a microscopic 1.86 ERA. Verlander is 6’5”, 236 pounds and this past Saturday, July 23, his fastball topped out at 99.9 mph. He’s 39 years old, still dealing with no sign of a let up. He’s also married to the amazing Kate Upton and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And one cool guy. Several years back, while still pitching with Detroit, Verlander came out of his hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh to eat and a friend and his then-13-year-old son approached him for an autograph. My friend said Verlander was very gracious and chatted with his son for a minute or two about baseball and pitching. Then two other young Tigers came out of the hotel and walked past, saying “no” when the son asked for their autographs. Verlander immediately interceded, saying, “Hey, get back here. Sign his autograph book.” The two young players quickly came back and signed the book and, while Verlander watched closely, chatted with my friend and his son for a few minutes. Verlander then thanked them both for being fans and walked with the two younger players, absolutely making my friend’s son’s whole month. That is a class act and we wish Justin Verlander complete success. And, FYI, in 2020 Verlander donated a sizeable chunk of his salary to different organizations that were helping with COVID relief, another classy move. Some athletes truly get it.

:03—Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves won 363 games while also missing three full seasons for military duty during WWII, and part of a fourth season. He could, conceivably, have won 435+ games and yet no one ever talks about him as one of the all-time great pitchers. That being said, here’s the 10 greatest pitchers in baseball history – 1) Satchel Paige  2) Sandy Koufax  3) Bob Gibson  4) Warren Spahn  5) Walter Johnson  6) Roger Clemons  7) Steve Carlton  8) Tom Seaver  9) Pedro Martinez  10) Whitey Ford.  At 45 (???) years old, Satchel Paige made the All-Star team for the St. Louis Browns and was 12-10 with a 3.07 ERA. ‘Nuff said.

:02—If something doesn’t drastically change in MLB, as ratings and attendance once again slip, baseball is going to sadly find itself as a niche sport for diehard fans only. As an OG cat I can remember the anticipation of watching the All-Star Game every year through my 30s and 40s, a mark on the calendar, stay-at-home event. I couldn’t even muster the effort to tune into five minutes of the game last week; my enthusiasm for the sport at an all-time low. All the major sports have some type of salary cap except baseball and unless the greed of the owners and players is assuaged, I’m afraid even OG cats like myself will likely find better things to do than watch MLB.

:01—My all-time favorite baseball player growing up was, strangely, Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins and later the California Angels. Can’t remember the exact reason why I zeroed in on him; maybe his chase of .400 in 1977 had something to do with it but I also remember getting his autograph at the 1974 All-Star Game at Three Rivers Stadium and being absolutely thrilled. Baseball has the richest history of any sport and the memories are for a lifetime. Playing the game as a youth was the best part of every summer as a kid. I cherish those memories and hope in the future some other kids find what I found in the game.



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