Rocco DeMaro: A Nod to the Pittsburgh Pirates Post-Game Host


Jun 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates fan Mike Fox checks the rain fall before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

"“It’s disgusting.” –anonymous Port Authority Transit rider, upon learning that the greatest center fielder in the whole entire world, Nate McLouth, had been traded. circa 2009."

Nate McLouth — Nate McAwesome for those in the know — had been traded to the Atlanta Braves for three no-name prospects…well, two no-namers and some dude called Gorkys. The year was 2009 and the Pirates were (still) mired in ignominy. News of the swap overcame the airwaves like a storm cloud blitzing eastward down the Ohio River Valley and unleashing a torrential downpour of bad vibes on a baseball town already flooded with the misery that only 17 straight years of atrocious baseball can bring.

Predictably, many fans were ready to tie second-year GM Neal Huntington to a rocket and launch his sorry ass into the asteroid belt. The anonymous bus rider quoted at the top was among them. Judging by the scathing sound of her voice, she might have thrown a few elbows to be first to the blast-off button.

I might have been among the mob of disillusioned fans had I not been somewhat learned in the methods of building a winning baseball team, especially in a small market. McLouth was ripe to be traded. He was at his peak value. The 2008 Pirates All-Star likely was not a cornerstone of a future winner.

Unfortunately, many long-suffering Pirates fans judged success via the good ol’ eye test at the major league level, and ignored new-age analytical tools and measures — all that Billy Beane crap. The Pittsburgh Pirates, as heard on the radio and seen on TV, were losers. Plain and simple. But Nate McLouth was the lone shining star.

I understood Huntington’s madness because I’d been listening for years to the wisest baseball personality on the airwaves, Rocco DeMaro — host of the Pirates Extra Innings post-game show, on 104.7 FM.

Instead of joining fellow frenzied fans in a countdown to Huntington’s launch into the deepest realms of outer space, I wished to cut the rope that bound him to the rocket.

Keep dealing, Neal.

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In a recent post, Rum Bunter’s own, The Big Tuna, bemoaned the lack of shrewd Pirates media pundits, especially during the lean years of The Streak. He writes, “It was so disappointing to hear the clear lack of foresight and listen while literally every, single, local radio personality unanimously get it dead wrong about the Pirate’s season.   How is that possible?  Every…single…one.

I agree with much of what The Big Tuna writes in his piece, but there is indeed one who Buc’ed the trend. Yes, many local baseball talking heads offer, and offered, empty knee-jerk reactions and misguided analysis. Perennial losing may have been partially to blame. However, after reading Tuna’s piece, I couldn’t simply close my laptop and go about queuing-up the five billionth episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for my two-year-old son without giving a nod to the radio host I consider a notable exception to the largely culpable targets of The Big Tuna’s ire.

Readers of this blog may know that baseball on the radio rules my summer. For many years in the 2000’s my television set was merely a cumbersome paperweight, and the radio delivered Pirates baseball nightly. Despite all the losing, I didn’t feel as though I was suffering through nine innings of inept baseball. Instead, the games themselves were an enjoyable, if not unintentionally comedic, three-hour lead-in to the real attraction, the Extra Innings post-game show, with host Rocco DeMaro.

DeMaro stood above the rest because he actually knew what he was talking about. Wait. I’m not talking about other baseball commentators here, rather his talking head contemporaries on 104.7 FM, such as the blithering mad scientist of the airwaves, Michael Savage, and politic blowhard, Sean Hannity, whose mind is so narrow it could fit through a crack in the sidewalk.

Really, the other hosts on that station comprised a rogue gallery of self-righteous bigmouths.

Buuut seriously, Rocco DeMaro possessed baseball wisdom that quickly became very attractive to me. I learned more about the game of baseball, after a game of baseball. I quickly came to understand that what happened in the team’s front-office was as important — if not more important — then what happened on the field, considering the Pirates were foregone bottom-feeders. If the Pirates were going to contend, the major league team was less likely to award the fan base, than a prospective team, built by a shrew front office. DeMaro had been pining for that shrew front office for years, until he finally cried uncle when former GM David Littlefield passed on Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft, and later traded for has-been pitcher Matt Morris and his $18m salary.

I was mighty ticked, too.

I rode shotgun with DeMaro during the bad times. He spoke about the “kids being the future,” meaning the prospects in the minors. He ranted about bone-headed signings, and longed for forward-thinking trades. The hiring of current GM Neal Huntington and President of Baseball Operations Frank Coonely ushered in a dash of hope. Shortly afterwards, the new front office began the rebuild process in earnest — lose for several more years, and MAYBE win years later. A deeply unpopular decision to many, yes, but THIS was the kind of major upheaval which DeMaro lauded.

Trading Nate McLouth for three no-name prospects was met with DeMaro’s approval, despite the dissent in the streets.

2011 saw the Pirates’ first true step out of ignominy since Sid Bream showed Bucs fans their own collective beating heart, like a lead-shoe wearing, mustachioed Mola Ram, from Temple of Doom.

Of course, who knew back in 2009 if the Pirates would ever truly contend, five-year plan be damned? Regardless, the right kind of moves were transpiring. During that time, I imagined DeMaro would host Extra Innings with added zeal, and perhaps a deserved “I-friggin’-told-you-so” attitude, when the Bucs had wrestled the tough realities of a small-market team to emerge as a force.

In short, I was excited to celebrate with the dude when the Pirates would win again.

The Pirates bottomed-out in 2010, going 57-105. But Andrew McCuthen had the look of a cornerstone player, and Pedro Alverez had been called-up mid-summer. The farm system continued to bulk up. The rebuild was in full swing. Although the season itself reeked, a discerning fan might notice the faint scent of a not-too-distant uprising.

But cruel fate intervened for Rocco DeMaro. I learned on Opening Day 2011 that the Extra Innings post-game show had vanished, along with its host. I don’t pretend to know what happened behind the scenes/out of earshot of the microphone, but I imagine that DeMaro did not go gently into that good night of fickle radio lifespans.

Then crueler fate intervened, insofar as timing — the Pirates began to win. 2011 saw a 15-win improvement. The team even managed a brief July stay atop the NL Central. Those lowly Buccos were making national headlines, and were buyers at the trade deadline. Despite finishing with a losing record, 2011 saw the Pirates’ first true step out of ignominy since Sid Bream showed Bucs fans their own collective beating heart, like a lead-shoe wearing, mustachioed Mola Ram, from Temple of Doom.

Remember when Michael McKenry blasted that three-run eighth inning home run off Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol? Of course you do.

After the game that night, I recall the lonely 45-minute drive down Ohio River Blvd from Beaver Falls to my home in Pittsburgh. I lamented not being able to listen to DeMaro, who likely would bask in a joyous moment of a team seeking to end The Streak, but also rightfully dampen the celebration with a dose of regression reality.

Rather than simply imagine Rocco’s reaction, I wrote the man directly via social media. The following is my exact message, and his response.

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Hey Rocco, I’m sure you get a lot of messages like this one, but the biggest drawback to this Bucco season for me is that you’re not on the air. I’ve listened to you for several years since your unfortunate departure, and one of the things I always looked forward to was your long overdue, and well earned, reaction to whenever this team appeared to have finally turned the corner. That seems to be happening now but a substantial piece of the rebirth is missing, your voice. Anyway, I hope all is well and your still are enjoying this season so far. -Matt

Thanks, Matt. Very kind of you. I miss you guys, too. Pretty great consolation, though–they’re playing some very solid ball right now. There is some regression coming, but they could very well end The Streak in ’11.

Did you note the money shot in the response? “There is some regression coming.” Vintage DeMaro.

By the way, he was right. The regression came in droves in 2011.

Here we are in 2015. The Pirates have made the post-season in 2013, and 2014. Bustler Olney, baseball writer for ESPN, picked the Pirates to win the whole damn thing this year. Not sure about that, but hey, the Pittsburgh Pirates are clearly contenders.

Unfortunately, Rocco DeMaro won’t be a nightly companion beginning Opening Day ’15, or when the seemingly endless summer rolls into September playoff races. So it goes.

Still, I keep fond memories of listening to Extra Innings after pitiful Pirates games past…and the Vader Treatment, and Bob Walk‘s mysterious lucky noise, and Day 6 of Righting The Ship, and “My Gentleman’s Name is Tony Plush,” and The Resistance, and “The Great and Powerful Rivas,” and The Pinata, and…

The Pirates are winners again, Rocco. From one fan who knew enough to applaud the Nate McAwesome trade, to another — I hope you are enjoying the ride.