By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist
EVERY OCTOBER, fans of every non-playoff baseball team look at former players who are playing for teams who qualify for the playoffs, dreaming of what might have been.
This year 23 ex-Buccos helped other teams make the playoffs. Only Oakland, Texas, and St. Louis won without ex-Pirates.
Admittedly, several of these players did little to get their teams into the playoffs. For example, Steve Pearce played for three teams in 2012, batting .160 with a home run and four RBIs in a dozen games. With the O’s he swatted four roundtrippers and drove in 14 in 21 games.
Did the Bucs err in letting Pearce go last year?
Hardly. In Pittsburgh, Pearce hit one homer with 15 RBIs in 65 games in 2010-2011 combined.
Old Pirate Nate McLouth sparked the Orioles batting leadoff. In 209 at-bats in 55 games with Baltimore, he batted .268 with seven homers and 18 RBIs.
Should the Pirates have kept McLouth?
Are you kidding? McLouth, signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh last winter, but was released after he hit .140 with no homers and two RBIs in 34 games. This followed his batting .190 and .228 in his two years with Atlanta.
Ex-Bucco Casey McGehee played in 22 games after being traded to the Yankees this summer. But his one home run and six RBIs didn’t do much to help New York.
However, there were others who were big contributors to their playoff teams this year. NL champion San Francisco got two post-season wins from Ryan Vogelsong against the Cardinals, after he was 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA in the regular season. The ex-Pirate was 11th in the 2011 Cy Young award voting, when he had a 13-7 record with a 2.71 in a season.
Should the Pirates have hung on to the 2011 All-Star who has won 29 games the past two seasons?
When the Pirates released Vogelsong after the 2006 season, he had a career 10–22 record and 5.86 ERA in 120 games and 315 innings over parts of six seasons. Nobody wanted him, so he went to Japan for three years. In 2010, he was signed, then released, to minor league contracts by both the Phillies and Angels. In 2011, San Francisco gave him a minor league contract, calling him to the majors only after Barry Zito went on the disabled list.
If you want to criticize Pittsburgh on Vogelsong, then belittle all 30 teams for allowing him to leave for Japan and for not offering a major league contract when he returned.
Adam LaRoche had hit 12 homers and knocked in 40 runs when the Bucs sent him to Boston in mid-2009.
A bad move?
If so, also criticize Boston, who later shipped him to Atlanta the same year. The Braves let him walk, and he was a 2010 free agent signing with Arizona, who also let him walk following the season. He signed a two-year $15 million contract with Washington in 2011, when he batted .172 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 43 games before having season-ending surgery.
Should the Pirates have known that in 2012 he would notch a career high 33 homers and knocking in 100 runs for the second time in his career?
And even though Brandon Moss socked 21 homers and batted .291 with Oakland in 2012, I defy you to find the person who thought the Bucs were wrong to release him after a miserable two and one-half years.
When the Bucs jettisoned Moss and Vogelsong, the only criticism against Pittsburgh was “Why did it take so long?”
For every Vogelsong there are countless others who mattered little to their new teams. And the scullery maid who turns into Cinderella most often does so only after a long period of time which no team should be criticized for not waiting.
The truth is that 95 percent of the time these players are never heard of again, which is why we remember the exceptions.
Jim Sankey writes this weekly baseball column for Allied News.