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Pirates Q&A Pirates Q & A with Paul Meyer

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Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Q: Recently I read that Kevin McClatchy estimated that the Pirates could survive a strike of two years. First, is this posturing on his part or is there any real reason to think that this team, or any team (the Yankees included) could last so long with no product on the field? Second, how did this "two-year" number get started? Is there actual speculation that the strike could in fact last that long?

Brian Knudsen of Pittsburgh

MEYER: I believe there's some confusion on this point. I heard that McClatchy said on a talk show, in answer to a question, that, yes, a players strike COULD last two years. But I don't think at that time McClatchy said teams could survive a two-year strike. I doubt the players could, either. Or the game itself.

McClatchy did tell me in a subsequent conversation that the Pirates could survive a one-year strike. Whether they could survive a two-year strike never was discussed that day.

Most people seem to think that if there is a strike, it will be a long one. If the players strike in September, there certainly won't be enough time to get an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement before the season would have ended - if there hasn't been agreement by, say, mid-September. And by then the players will have received all their money for this year. If they saved wisely, they can last deep into 2003 - in general. The owners would be foolish to cave in again during the off-season.

If there is a strike and it lasts well into what would have been the 2003 season, things will be not be pretty.

Q: More of a comment, but I would like to see this Pirates team together for another year. Keep Jason Kendall and Brian Giles and see what happens. Jack Wilson is young and getting better everyday. Aramis Ramirez will hit again. Armando Rios can add some punch when healthy. We can't do anything with Kevin Young right now and we need a center fielder.

But I think the core of the team is heading in the right direction. It seems every year we move people in and out of the organization. Let's see what these guys can do for two years together. Get to know each other better. The pitching will only get better.

And to that point, let's sign Brian Boehringer to an extension right now. Don't let him go, too. We will be all right if we keep the core together and fill in a piece where needed. Pokey Reese's offense is offensive to us fans, but I love watching him play the defense.

My hope is that we are patient and let things develop. This is the best outlook we have had in a long time. Things will fall into place.

Brian Wedzik of Charlotte, N.C.

MEYER: I agree that this team seems headed in the right direction, but it will take another two years of smooth sailing to get the Pirate ship into strong contention. The center field/leadoff hitter situation has become a huge question - one perhaps not solved from within.

But the core group is solid. We'll assume Aramis Ramirez will have a bounceback season in 2003. However, the Pirates still need another productive bat in the lineup - maybe in right field. That's still a work-in-progress.

The nucleus of a solid starting rotation is in place. Kris Benson, Kip Wells and Josh Fogg could give the Pirates a good enough first three. Maybe Jimmy Anderson is a fifth starter. Maybe he's gone. But in another year or two, there will be a lot of fourth and fifth starter possibilities emerging from the farm system.

I'm not sure the Pirates will sign Boehringer to an extension. He makes $675,000 this season. He'll want at least a two-year deal, with probably an option year, and those two guaranteed years likely will be worth close to a total of $3 million. The Pirates showed last off-season they can find setup guys for $675,000 a year. They're likely to try to show this off-season they can do it again.

Q: The Pirate announcers always comment on seeing a difference in the team when Pokey Reese is in the lineup. I was wondering what the team's record is when Reese has been in the lineup.

Mike Donnadio of Beaver Falls

MEYER: Through Monday, July 22, the Pirates were 33-31 when Reese started at second base for them. Other starting second basemen and the Pirates' record are: Abraham Nunez (13-18), Mike Benjamin (1-2) and Rob Mackowiak (0-1).

Lloyd McClendon thinks Reese is worth 10 to 12 wins a season to the Pirates just by himself. Perhaps he's right on that point. Had Reese been healthy this entire season, the Pirates might have another six wins by now. That easily would put them over .500 on the year.

Q: With the horrific "slump" that Aramis Ramirez has been in since returning from his suspension, when do you think Lloyd McClendon will realize that this guy needs to be removed from the cleanup slot. Brian Giles will continue to get pitched around or intentionally walked by every team with Ramirez on deck.

Ken Bodz of Solon, Ohio

MEYER: McClendon was adamant that Ramirez will remain in the cleanup spot when the subject was broached July 22. McClendon feels Ramirez has a track record of being productive, and the third baseman did hit .379 with runners in scoring position last year - third-best in the league. Now, he's not doing that well this year - if he were, the Pirates would be above .500 and challenging seriously for first place - but McClendon thinks the Pirates' best strategy is to keep Ramirez in the four-hole and let him find his stroke again. This could be a decision made more for next season than this, but it's what McClendon thinks for now.

It also says something about the Pirate offense in general that there isn't another viable, long-term candidate for the fourth spot this season. Maybe there will be by next season. But I'm betting that by next season Ramirez will be just fine again batting fourth.

Q: Is Lloyd McClendon nuts? Kevin Young for a Gold Glove? The guy leads National League first basemen with seven errors. Yes, he has good range, but he's no Gold Glover. And why not promote Jack Wilson? Jack Flash certainly has the highlight reel to win one, and though he has a lot of errors as well, I'll bet the average voter remembers all those SportsCenter highlights instead.

Chris Bisbee of Kalamazoo, Mich.

MEYER: McClendon, when he talked about Young, Pokey Reese and Brian Giles being Gold Glove candidates that day, did mention Jack Wilson as a possibility. However, Jack Wilson is too young to rate serious consideration among the voters - who are the league's managers and coaches.

I thought Young was a Gold Glove first baseman in the late 1990s. Not only did he play great defense, but he was a productive hitter. And good offensive numbers, for whatever reason, seem to be huge in the voting for defensive excellence.

I think Young is playing much better defense this season. And it's no coincidence that Jack Wilson is getting noticed as a defensive plus in the same season Young is playing well at first base. There's no telling how many errors Young has saved Pirate infielders over the last five or six seasons because of his ability to handle poor throws cleanly.

Q: Mike Williams continues to amaze me. He's converted 52 of 56 save opportunities (through July 23). That's a remarkable stretch. I'm almost surprised I'm not hearing more rumors about Mike Williams being traded. He's signed to a pretty manageable contract and I'd think there are teams that could use bullpen help. Any trade rumors involving him?

Ron Southwick of Washington, D.C.

MEYER: Mike Williams truly has been amazing. His success rate over the past two seasons has been phenomenal, especially when one considers he isn't a gas-thrower - a Billy Wagner-type closer who will get a lot of outs on strikeouts.

I believe the Pirates will hang onto Williams this July. The point all season has been for this group to win the games it SHOULD win, and Williams is a major reason why these Pirates have been able to do that consistently. I haven't heard his name mentioned in any rumors, and I don't think I will.

Q: I haven't had a chance to watch Kris Benson since his first start back from the injury, but should we be concerned that his strikeout total is less than Benson-like? Or is it a question of him still getting his control back? We need that horse to even think about being in a race, so to speak.

Christian Pelusi of Charlottesville, Va.

MEYER: That Benson isn't striking out a lot of batters is probably reason for some concern. He did after all strike out 184 in 217 2/3 innings in 2000, the year before he hurt his elbow. Over his first 13 starts this season, the right-hander struck out 34 in 62 1/3 innings.

However, nobody thought Benson in 2002 would be the Benson of 2000. He'd be inconsistent this year and then be his old self in 2003.

The encouraging aspect of Benson's comeback is his increased consistency since his first six starts. In those games, his earned run average was 8.23. Over his next seven starts (through July 20), Benson had an earned run average of 3.09. And in the five most recent starts through July 20, he allowed more than one earned run just once. True, he isn't pitching seven or eight innings per start, but I think the Pirates don't really mind that at this point.

Benson appears healthy. And if he's healthy, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself.

Q: When do you expect Tony Alvarez to get promoted? And will it be straight to Pittsburgh or will he spend time with all of the career minor leaguers in Nashville? And when do you expect to see some of the talent in Class A start moving up through the system?

Todd of Cranberry

MEYER: I don't expect Alvarez to make his debut with the Pirates until sometime during the 2003 season, perhaps in September. He's playing center field for Class AA Altoona and having a solid season, but he has yet to play an inning in Class AAA. And it appears under the Dave Littlefield regime there won't be any - or much of - promoting to the major leagues without a good, solid stop in Class AAA.

Nothing wrong with that. Alvarez won't be 24 years old until next May 10. The one catch here is that the Pirates definitely need a center fielder, as noted above. And a leadoff hitter. Perhaps Alvarez isn't a leadoff hitter. He doesn't walk much, but he does have decent speed. I'm not sure the Pirates are convinced he'll be a center fielder, either.

They could "rush" Alvarez next spring, but I'm betting they won't. They'll first try to acquire a center fielder in a trade or by signing a free agent.

As promising as Alvarez is, if he's somehow the starting center fielder on opening day in 2003, the Pirates probably "had to" make him a regular before they wanted to.

As far as the Class A talent goes, a lot of the Lynchburg team will be at Altoona next year. The Hickory team of 2002 will move up to Lynchburg. That means the first trickle of help from the 2002 Lynchburg powerhouse won't start making an impact until the middle of the 2004 season at the earliest and probably not until 2005.

Q: I think in the 70's the Pirates fielded the first all-black team. Could you give me all the information on the game. The lineup? Did they win? Thank you so much for looking at my question. A couple of the positions are bugging me.

Larry Pawlak of Natrona Heights

MEYER: On Sept. 1, 1971, the Pirates fielded the first all-minority starting lineup in baseball history. The Pirates in that game beat Philadelphia, 10-7, in front of 11,278 at Three Rivers Stadium. Pirate Manager Danny Murtaugh said: "When it comes to making out the lineup, I'm color blind."

The lineup Murtaugh made out that day was:

2B Rennie Stennett

CF Gene Clines

RF Roberto Clemente

LF Willie Stargell

C Manny Sanguillen

3B Dave Cash

1B Al Oliver

SS Jackie Hernandez

P Dock Ellis

Q: Why is it that old time sluggers such as Babe Ruth, Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx hit a lot of triples? Ruth and Foxx averaged nine a season with Greenberg eight. Heck, Lou Gehrig averaged 12. Mark McGwire averaged less than one, and Sosa and Bonds don't hit many, either? Was Ruth honestly that much faster a runner than Big Mac? Were the old-timers that much more aggressive?

Staff Sgt. Chris George of Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

MEYER: I'd doubt that the Babe could out-run Big Mac in a race. My guess is that the old-timers played in much larger parks than the current players. The Polo Grounds in New York, for example, was almost endless in center field. The "old" Yankee Stadium had a tremendous stretch out to left-center field. And a lot of those old parks had quirky angles in the outfield walls that could create weird bounces, which would allow for extra bases.

And let's not forget something else. Outfielders in the old days, in general, weren't nearly so quick and fast as today's outfielders. They didn't cut off balls as neatly as today's guys. I can imagine a lot of balls getting through the gaps in the outfields back then and rolling to walls - and then taking weird caroms.

I'll bet if you put some of today's players in those old parks, they'd hit a lot of triples, too. And probably a lot more inside-the-park home runs, too.

Q: I told a friend that the Pirates used to have two players in their farm system named John Dillinger and Sergio Mendez, and he told me I needed to go into rehab. Please tell me I'm right.

Duane Bugby of Bauer, Iowa

MEYER: You can avoid the rehab visit, Duane. The Pirates indeed had Dillinger, a pitcher, and Mendez, a catcher, in their farm system in the early to mid 1990s. Neither ever made it to the big leagues with the Pirates, however.

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