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Savran: Get facts right before bashing

Saturday, April 13, 2002

The Sports Mailbag feature which appears weekly, and should be, a forum for fans to respond to me and others, not the reverse. But a letter from a Pirates basher last week was so annoyingly repetitive and contained so much venom and misinformation that it screamed for a reply.

The tread-worn central issue was the use of public funds for the building of sports stadiums, and in particular, PNC Park. The targets were many and diffuse: Kevin McClatchy, the Pirates, Pirates fans, politicians, the media and anyone who dares to vote or think differently. As is most often the case with these people, if you don't agree with them, not only are you wrong, but you also are mentally defective. When they don't get their way, they want to make life as miserable as possible for all others. At least as miserable as theirs.

It wasn't nearly enough that this guy was against the use of public funds for the building of the ballpark, which is fine. No, he fervently hoped that the Pirates would extend their string of losing seasons, presumably to infinity. And that attendance would drop precipitously so that the team will be sold, moved or contracted, leaving PNC Park hollow and empty with tumbleweeds blowing across it and a chilling wind whistling through it.

This, of course, makes great sense. That would really make tax dollars work in the best interests of the general public, wouldn't it? No team, no revenue, no amusement taxes for the city, no return on the investment whatsoever. All in the name of a smug ideologue getting the chance to say, "I told you so." They don't like it, so they want to make sure to spoil it for everybody.

Well, for openers Mr. Sunshine, let's clear up the fatiguing stream of misinformation used by these people. With great indignity they will invariably snort, "The taxpayers voted against using public funds to build these stadiums!"

I tell you now, for once and for all, Not they did not! The people voted against increasing taxes to construct PNC Park, Heinz Field, and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. They did not vote against the usage of existing taxes for that purpose. There's a world of difference between the two. Seems to me, if their cause was so righteous, there wouldn't be a need to intentionally distort the facts.

Further, it seems to me that continuing attacks on the Pirates' organization are an act of cowardice. When these people regurgitate this after-the-fact argument ad nauseam, why do they seldom attack the use of those same public funds for the construction of Heinz Field? It was built through the exact same funding plan as PNC Park. So why isn't it targeted as frequently and with as much vigor? Could it be because the Steelers have a wider fan base? And because the roots of the Rooney family are more firmly entrenched in the community than McClatchy's? And, bottom line, because the Steelers are too popular and the Rooneys too powerful to risk attacking?

The truth is, the Pirates are easy targets. While their play and public-relations gaffes are deserving of criticism, I contend the 100 losses in their first season of residence at PNC Park has emboldened their critics. Kick 'em while they're down and can't fight back. Had the team lost 80 games instead of 100 last year, these attacks would be reduced to the grumbling of the incurably sour. As if the Pirates had reneged on a promise to win the World Series, these people use the horrendous baseball of last year as validation for their anti-stadium homily. Building PNC Park wasn't a guarantee to keep the Pirates competitive, it was built primarily to keep them in Pittsburgh.

I don't quarrel with those who have a fundamental, philosophical problem with the use of public funds for building stadiums. I understand it and respect it. But they should also respect dissenting views. But they don't. Instead, they wish for ill fortune to befall those holding different views. They question the intelligence of those who want the team to do well, and voters who re-elected civic officials who approved the plan. They name-call and paint with a broad brush. They are intolerant. And it's their intolerance and mean spirit that angries up my blood, as Satchel Paige used to say.

Get over it. PNC Park has been built. It's not going anywhere. And because of that, thankfully, neither are the Pirates.

Stan Savran is the hosts a sports talk show from 8 to 9 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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