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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pirates critics switch to BRICKbats

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 1:12 PM

I haven't been to a Pirates game in awhile -- I stopped going after a dispute over an order of nachos. But if the team is generating as much heat inside the park as it is outside, I may start going again. 

We start with the bleacher bums at the conservative Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, who we find crowing over the Pirates' poor attendance this morning:

As we have reported ... since 2007, Pittsburgh Pirates' attendance languishes among the lowest in the league. Since 2007, attendance has ranked 28th out of 30 teams. So far this season, attendance is still holding two spots above the worst level. Unless fireworks and special promotions over this summer boost attendance sharply from the current pace of 17,170 per game, the 2010 season will see only 1.4 million fans push through the turnstiles.

Of course, it's early in the season, and school is still in session. The Institute more or less acknolwedges that 1.6 million fans is a more likely number. Nevertheless ...

One of the arguments used by those who pushed so hard to get a new ball park was that Three Rivers Stadium was not a good baseball venue and a new park was needed to boost team attendance and revenue. [But]  during the last four years of play at Three Rivers Stadium, 1997 through 2000, attendance averaged 1.6 million. So it is safe to say that after ten years, PNC Park has not proved to be the answer to Pirates poor attendance.

But the Allegheny Institute aren't the only folks nursing old grievances. The Nutting family, which owns the Pirates, is apparently STILL sore over a short-lived possibility that Penguins owner Mario Lemieux might offer to buy the club from them. 

Exhibit A: this column by Paul Ladewski about the Penguins' playoff loss -- a piece that has been a staple of sports-talk fodder after it appeared on the Nutting-owned Pirates Report Web site. (It was later removed from the site, which is why this link takes you to a Google-cached location.) Even by the standards of a Pirates fan, it's a stunning display of cognitive dissonance:

Now that the Penguins have gone belly-up in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years in the Sidney Crosby era, maybe we'll hear less about how their ownership will turn around the Pirates in no time if given the chance.

... [D]id you know that, while the Pirates have gone 17 years without a sniff of .500, the Penguins have hoisted exactly one Stanley Cup in that period?

So if I'm reading this correctly, the defense for the Pirates' current ownership is this: Hey, at least the Pirates have never gone to the playoffs four times in the past four years! So there! Yeah!

Local sports writer John Perroto called Ladewski's piece "the least-credible bit of sports journalism in recent Pittsburgh professional sports history." But of course Perroto has grievances of his own with the Nuttings -- as his piece makes clear, they canned him not very long ago.

As Perroto notes, the column came out one day after a big Post-Gazette story on Lemieux's co-owner, Ron Burkle -- a story that reminds us of Burkle's interest in the Pirates.

Who's right? Who's wrong? I don't know. But I wish the Pirates played with the same passion as the people arguing over them.

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