Pittsburgh Pirates: A Change in the Clubhouse Culture

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates just endured one of their worst seasons as an organization.  Do not tell any players in that clubhouse.

One thing about baseball is there are a lot of ups and downs.  Unfortunately for Pittsburgh Pirates fans there have been a lot more ups than downs.  The team appeared to be on the brink of becoming a sustained, relevant franchise during the first half of the last decade.  However, the wheel came off in recent years and overall, the Bucs have only made the playoffs in three of the last 28 years.

With that being said, last offseason there was renewed hope brought to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  The team brought in a lot of new faces including manager Derek Shelton and General Manager Ben Cherington.  From day one, the attitude and the direction of the organization seemed to be different.  The team made some moves, did away with some of the veterans on the roster to open up opportunity for younger players.  The talk of analytics increased a lot, it quickly became evident that the previous regime fell behind the curve.

Yes, the year came and went and the Bucs were one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball  That was to be expected.  They had the second lowest payroll in the League and simply had a lot of questionable, but young, talent that was unproven.  The expectation was for them to be the worst team in the NL Central, if not baseball, and they were.

However, strides were made.  One could see a difference in the atmosphere around the team.  They were young, but showing progress, and a hunger to get better.  By the end of the season, Ke’Bryan Hayes showed that he will be the team’s future franchise payer, Joe Musgrove showed the power strikeout stuff, and the team started to play better baseball.  There were also some players who took advantage of their opportunities like Hayes, Phillip Evans, and Anthony Alford.

While the results may not have been much better than the last few years, the team seemed different.  There are actual reasons to be looking forward to 2021, one can see the youth movement plan starting to evolve.  It all starts with the leadership.

The Pittsburgh Pirates leadership has been evident.  This is because of guys like Derek Shelton and Ben Cherington.  They came in with positive and up lifting attitudes.  They never used the words rebuild, too much negative connotation with that word, so instead they speak in a positive light, they want to build, get better, always improve.  It was never about the team’s deficits, but rather the opportunity for a player to take advantage of.

Over the last few months, we have spent some time here at Rum Bunter talking to coaches, prospects, former players, and current players.  There has been one consistent theme when discussing the new regime with all of them: compassion and growth.  Baseball is more than a game, these are young players trying to make a career.  There is a lot of pressure put on these players from day one, they need support and confidence just as much as they need to work on fundamentals.

This has been clearly stated multiple times but both Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton.  The players are not just pieces to the team, they are an active member of the organization.  Every player is given the same opportunity whether you were a top pick or a back end pick; the club wants to develop those players to be the best that they can be.

Under the previous regime, there was often a lot of tension.  Young players were often benched if they made a mistake or had a tough game.  Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow were the two most recent examples.  We even had a former player tell us that this extended back to the beginning of the regime.  The player spoke about the pressure that was put on Pedro Alvarez, the constant reminders from the Pittsburgh Pirates staff about how big of a bonus he got especially when he was struggling.  It sounded like that the previous regime wanted production and if the player wasn’t producing, then it was on them.

Yesterday we spoke with current Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Anthony Alford.  Alford has a unique perspective on the organization.  He just joined the team this year, but came from the Toronto Blue Jays, who just went through a similar rebuild.  Also, he spent time there when Ben Cherington worked in the Blue Jays organization.

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He spoke glowingly about Cherington, listen to the podcast for more, but one could see why Alford was excited to come here.  He talked about how much of a relationship he had with Cherington in Toronto, and how him bringing him to Pittsburgh didn’t surprise him because Cherington has always believed in him.  The word there is “believe.”  Every one of these Pittsburgh Pirates we have talked to said that the new regime does nothing but build them up.  Changing the clubhouse culture is a big step in the right direction.