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Madden: Two players test Pirates, McClendon

Saturday, February 24, 2001

Pirates Manager Lloyd McClendon says he's going to run a tight ship. But with spring training barely under way, the boat already seems to be leaking.

Outfielder/first baseman John Vander Wal is going to complain about the Derek Bell signing until Vander Wal gets traded or McClendon strangles him, neither of which would be a bad thing. Pitcher Jimmy Anderson marked the opening of camp by having pictures of his grotesque gut featured in publications across America.

Pirates fever already seems to be dissipating -- to wit, the Pirates have reportedly sold the equivalent of just 15,000 full-season tickets for their first year in PNC Park.

McClendon needs to get some attention -- the attention of his players and the team's paying customers, people who want so badly for the Pirates to be the intense, workingman's team promised by the new skipper. McClendon needs to put some action behind his words.

He needs to tell General Manager Cam Bonifay to trade Vander Wal as soon as possible. Then, the Pirates should send Anderson to their minor-league camp. Or to Richard Simmons.

Vander Wal is clearly a cancer, and just as clearly isn't going to shut up. Vander Wal unleashed a torrid volley of inflammatory rhetoric in the Grand Rapids, Mich., paper last weekend, perhaps thinking that quotes in his hometown rag would never make it to Pittsburgh. Or maybe thinking they would.

Vander Wal apparently fancies himself a latter-day Mickey Mantle after having his first above-average campaign last year. He called the Pirates' signing of Bell a "foolish mistake." He referred to Pirates management as "idiots." He said, "I'm not going to suffer because of their mistakes. They want me to wait until the All-Star break to see if things turn out all right. I'm not going to do that, no way."

What an ego, especially from a 34-year-old who has been a pinch-hitting specialist his whole career. He had a good season in 2000, but it should be said that .299, 24 homers and 94 runs batted in are not exactly Ruthian numbers given that power and poor pitching currently rule the majors. Not only that, but Vander Wal also gives back a lot of the runs he produces via poor defense. He'll never win a Gold Glove, but he does appear to wear a mitt made of metal when he patrols the field. Clank, clank, clank.

He's a decent player. No more, no less. But now Vander Wal acts like last year has permanently erased the journeyman tag from his resume and primed him for Cooperstown. If Vander Wal is such an impact player, how did the Pirates manage to lose 93 games last year? Vander Wal deserves his share of at-bats. But he shouldn't play ahead of Bell or Kevin Young.

Vander Wal told the Grand Rapids paper he'd prefer to be traded to the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets or New York Yankees. Each of these contenders would presumably provide a regular lineup spot, he wrote sarcastically. Maybe the Yankees -- after erecting a monument to Vander Wal in center field -- could bench Bernie Williams. If Vander Wal went to Boston, he'd likely complain about the signing of Manny Ramirez.

He's a jerk. He's a distraction. He's not that good. Trade him.

As for Anderson, his girth shows a lack of off-season dedication and a lack of pride in himself as an athlete. It's a slap at McClendon, who stressed coming to spring training in shape. At best, Anderson is going to be the fifth starter. Give that job to Bronson Arroyo and let Anderson stew in the minors.

Jason Schmidt, an established big-league hurler, shed 20 pounds and his Michelin Man look during the off-season. Give Schmidt credit. He bought into McClendon's plan. Anderson, a borderline pitcher at best, did not. It's time for Anderson to pay for being so derelict in his conditioning.

The Pirates don't have much big-time talent past Jason Kendall, Brian Giles and Kris Benson. If they're going to overachieve -- if they're going to contend for .500 or, somehow, a playoff berth -- they have to stick together. They need to feed off each other's dedication and desire. Vander Wal seems dedicated only to ripping Bell, blasting management and causing commotion. Anderson's only desire is likely another Whopper.

It's one thing to say how serious you are. But it's better to show how serious you are.

If the Pirates open the season with Vander Wal and Anderson on their roster, then all that talk about being focused and together is out the window. Bell said it best: "We don't need no bad apples." OK, so maybe Derek's grammar could have been better. But his sentiments were right on the mark.

Let's face it, the Pirates aren't going to win the National League Central this year or any year. But if they eschew selfishness and fight hard as a unit every day, they can be a team Pittsburgh can be proud of, a team Pittsburgh will want to watch. A lot of Pittsburghers annually look for an excuse to be sick of baseball, a sport that is, quite frankly, easy to get sick of given today's major-league climate.

Vander Wal and Anderson could provide that excuse. They have got to go. If they're here on opening day, then Pirates management is, indeed, composed of idiots. Just like Vander Wal says.


Mark Madden's talk show is heard 4-8 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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