No matter how you look at it, 20 years is a long time.
Twenty years is definitely long enough to influence minds and instill beliefs. As we all know, the Pittsburgh Pirates did that in spades over that timeframe, treating us to a special brand of bad baseball. It was the worst of times, and it was the worst of times. Year after year we lathered ourselves up over the latest prospect, the latest low-level free agent with a name just recognizable enough, and we came to PNC Park for the fireworks and the view.
Then came Neal Huntington.
In 2007, the Pirates were once again languishing. Huntington came in, cleaned house, and started to rebuild the Pirates in his vision. What separated Neal from his predecessors was one very important thing: the guy, and maybe more importantly the scouting department he put in place, knew how to gauge talent. They knew they were a few years away in 2007 and set about restructuring the organization to resemble a winning one, if not actually winning just yet. He had slowly stocked the farm system and actually got the better of trades with other teams, which was unheard of under the previous regimes. Trading Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke comes to mind as a perfect example of Neal knowing what he has and dealing it at the perfect time. He took someone who had an outlying great year, realized the chances of McLouth duplicating that were slim, and spun that for two quality pitching prospects who have since pitched meaningful innings for the club.
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Fast forward to the trade deadline in 2011. Huntington had brought in Clint Hurdle to manage the team on the field. The Bucs were in first place at the all-star break? Say what? Unbelievable as it was, it was true. Despite this, the culture of losing was so ingrained in fans that they expected the front office to either do nothing, or sell some parts at the trade deadline.
Huntington had other ideas. Bringing in Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee at the deadline that year signaled that the window was opening, and times were changing. Yet some fans were STILL not convinced. 2012 came along. A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez came along. The long-promised slugger Pedro Alvarez broke out. 16 games over .500 on August 7th. We all know how that turned out. Only four games under .500 at the end of the year.
Yet most fans still weren’t convinced. Fans still weren’t even optimistic that the upward trajectory would continue.
2013 was a magical year for the Pirates as well all know, and Neal Huntington once again set the tone for the year, bringing in Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano to give the Pirates one of their best Opening Day 25-man rosters in memory up to that point.
My question to the fan base is this: Has Neal Huntington done enough to earn your trust? Are 2 magical years enough to sustain your excitement? To me, the answer is an unequivocal yes. The guy came into an undisputed dumpster fire. Once the organization was rebuilt at the top, it was much easier for Neal to do what he and his staff does best: gauge talent. The Pittsburgh Pirates now have a solid organization, top to bottom.
The results speak for themselves.
It’s time to put more trust in Neal Huntington. The next time that a trade deadline comes around and no major move is made, or if the biggest splash for the Bucs at the winter meetings is a late-inning reliever, remember what life was like as a Pirates fan B.N.