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Mark's Madness: Why the Pirates really cut Young

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The Pirates didn't cut Kevin Young for baseball reasons. He hardly played.

The Pirates didn't cut Young for financial reasons. They still have to pay him.

The Pirates didn't cut Young to call up someone better. They have no one better to call up.

The Pirates gave the veteran first baseman his unconditional release as a PR move.

The Pirates stink, and the fans are starting to get a bit restless. General Manager Dave Littlefield likely sensed they wanted a sacrifice. Littlefield legitimately doesn't (and shouldn't) blame Manager Lloyd McClendon for the Pirates' woes, so he didn't want to fire him.

So Littlefield cut Young, the guy who insulted the paying public. The guy who said the fans don't try hard enough. The guy who said the Pirates have no home-field advantage at PNC Park. He's also the guy who was hitting only .202 in only 84 at-bats, which certainly made releasing him easy.

Littlefield felt he should do something to placate the fans. So he did something with zero baseball impact that he thought the great unwashed might like. It's worth noting that Young refused to dismiss this theory during an appearance on my radio show Monday.

It's hard to tell if the fans like what Littlefield did, because it's hard to tell if anyone still pays much attention to the Pirates.

But cutting Young has apparently riled up a portion of the Pirates' clubhouse, a fractured, depressing place even on a good day.

Jason Kendall expressed his ire on the record. Several others were said to also be upset. Kendall said: "I'm not happy with how they did it. But my opinion means nothing."

Kendall got one part right. His opinion means nothing.

As for being unhappy with how the Pirates cut Young, how else could they have done it? How many ways are there to release a baseball player?

Should Young have been given a plaque? A Mercedes? A bouquet of roses? Should Celine Dion have serenaded him off the diamond? Should owner Kevin McClatchy have expressed his gratitude? Thank you, Kevin Young, for your contributions to the most sustained period of failure in franchise history. (I used Young's last name in the preceding sentence to avoid any understandable confusion that might have risen about which Kevin contributed to the most sustained period of failure in franchise history.)

No harm would have been served by allowing Young to play out the remainder of the year (and his contract).

But when you're 10 games under .500 and you're closing in on an 11th consecutive losing season, that's when players should refrain from criticizing moves made by the club, because they could be (and in many cases, should be) sent packing next.

Young has made a lot of money. He's an out-of-work millionaire. There are a lot worse things to be. He shouldn't be made into a martyr.

But that's exactly what might happen.

When Pat Meares' hand injury made his useless and he was summarily dismissed by the Pirates, his teammates mourned his absence by keeping his locker intact. The Pat Meares shrine showed up management and was lambasted by fans and media alike. Yet it stayed. It stayed because the players wanted it to and because management was too weak-willed to dismantle it.

Kendall was a big booster of the Pat Meares shrine.

Now Kendall has publicly expressed his dismay at Young being cut.

How many times is Kendall going to bite the hand that feeds him? And how many times is Pirates management going to tolerate being taken to task by a $8.5 million singles hitter?

Cutting Kendall would be a bad move. He's still a serviceable player, if overpaid. The Pirates can't trade Kendall, unless they're willing to take Jaromir Jagr in return.

But they can tell Kendall to shut up, preferably in private. I have that much respect for Kendall and for the fact that he always gives 100 percent on the field.

Strange thing about Kendall: Even though he has been with the Pirates for eight years, he steadfastly refuses to take on a leadership role. You've heard him say it over and over, "I'm just the catcher." It doesn't say much for Kendall -- or for the other veterans on the Pirates' roster -- when journeyman Reggie Sanders joins the club and immediately becomes team leader by default.

The Pirates need to call a team meeting. McClatchy or Littlefield should explain to them, "Look, you stink. There's no denying that. Don't talk like you're the 1927 Yankees and we just cut Lou Gehrig. If you want to take Kevin Young out for a farewell drink, feel free. But let us run the ballclub."

The only thing worse than a bad team is a bad team that speaks out of turn. Right or wrong, Young shouldn't have criticized the fans. Right or wrong, Kendall shouldn't embarrass management. The Pirates' players should worry a lot less about departed teammates and a lot more about winning baseball games.

(I already know the response to this column from the Pirates' clubhouse. "He never comes around. What does he know?" Hey, I've been at PNC Park three times this season. I don't have to wallow in manure to know it smells awful.)

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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