Pot Calling the Kettle Black & Gold

I can imagine what it would be like to be a Major League baseball player that has been traded from a perennially disappointing team like the Pirates. Just the change of scenery would be refreshing in one’s mind.

But one guy I could not imagine being is Sean Burnett, having been traded from the already-dismal Pirates to the league-worst Washington Nationals.

The only thing I could imagine even less is talking trash after the trade.

Burnett and Nyjer Morgan, who were sent together to the Nationals on June 30 for outfielder Lastings Milledge and relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan, are back in town this weekend to face their old mates in a four-game series at PNC Park.

It could have been a pleasant homecoming for both players… that is, until Burnett opened his mouth. He had some choice words for the Pirates that he shared with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic on the topic of all of the Pirates’ recent trades.

“They’re the laughingstock of baseball right now,” Burnett said. “They’ve gotten rid of everybody. They won’t keep anybody around. Some of the guys [in Washington] don’t understand it, but Nyjer and I knew this was coming.”

OK, let me get this straight, Mr. Burnett.

You just got traded to the WORST TEAM IN BASEBALL. There are teams that have almost as many wins as you have losses. And the Pirates are the laughingstock of baseball?! REALLY?!

You were a first-round draft pick nine years ago. NINE. It took you NINE years  to finally settle in as a Major League pitcher, and that was in the bullpen after you were drafted as a starter. Not to mention that there were a plethora of consecutive bad first-round draft picks just like you. And you have the nerve to wonder why they won’t keep anybody around?! When you’re an average of 24.5 games under .500 every year, there’s no reason to keep anybody around, not even you.

But wait, there’s more.

“What I keep telling the guys here,” he continues, “is that the hardest part is that Pittsburgh, as a sports town, is unbelievable. With what the Steelers and Penguins have done, they’re dying for a winner in baseball, too. They’re dying to cheer the Pirates on. And now, they don’t have anybody they even know. Guys like Jack [Wilson] and Freddy [Sanchez], the faces of the franchise, players they’re supposed to be locking up, they’re all gone. What’s going to bring people to the ballpark now?”

OK, hold on a second. A career .269 hitter with defense and a contact hitter with no power are supposed to be the faces of an MLB franchise? Am I hearing this correctly? Did I mention they were both over 30 years old?!

And to answer your question, the same thing that will bring people to the ballpark now was the same thing they did when they came to watch you stink up the joint. Apparently, you weren’t bringing them there with your lights-out performance (of course I’m being heavily sarcastic), so what the hell do you care? What brought them there over the last 16 years? Obviously not you.

And you think he would be done talking, right? Wrong. There’s more. In fact, Morgan gets in on the show.

Morgan says of the transition to Washington, they’ve welcomed us with open arms here, and it’s been awesome.”

Since July 1, the Nationals are 7-16. How awesome can things possibly be?! You just went from bad to worse, and it’s been awesome?! WOW.

Remember, this was the guy that teammates said was the one that made it so fun for them in the clubhouse. Wilson said he “brought so much on and off the field.” He was a guy that helped a team have fun while they were losing. Interesting.

Hearing things like this from professional athletes, is it so shocking that Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington is using words like, “changing the losing culture” in the clubhouse? I guess we’re discovering that the reason why the Pirates have struggled for so long is because the players are having too much fun losing!

Let’s put this in perspective: I’ve played baseball and softball for more than half of my life. I’ve played on some great teams that won championships, and I’ve played on some horrible teams that struggled to win games. The teams I remember the most fondly and had the most fun with? The teams what WON. I never had fun on the teams that lost.

Show me a team that has fun losing, and I’ll show you a team that will never win.

And then, of course, is the crown jewel quote of all. Burnett has a source of motivation for the series which is just flat out hilarious.

“We want to make them look stupid for making that trade,” he said.

Let me tell you something, Sean. In your 8.5 years with the organization, they got only 172.2 Major League innings out of you. And during that span, your ERA was 4.27, with a WHIP of 1.448. You were an average player with this team, and they blew the 19th overall pick in the 2000 amateur draft on you.

They stuck with you when elbow surgery probably should have ended your career, but they took you and your average ability and tried to make the best of you after you became even more mediocre.

In seven seasons with the Pirates organization, they got 644 at-bats out of Morgan (a little more than one season’s worth). He hit .304 with only four home runs, and while he stole 48 bases, he was caught stealing 22 times. And he was a 33rd round pick.

So, basically the team put up with the two of you over a nine-year span, to get an equivalent of three combined years of average Major League service out of you. And you have the nerve to criticize the team for the melancholy that you so miserably helped to create, especially when you are on a team that is even worse.

Make no mistake about it, Sean and Nyjer. You don’t need to make the Pirates look stupid for trading you.

They already look stupid for drafting you.

But thankfully, you are two mistakes they (and the fans) no longer have to live with.

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Is Garrett Jones For Real? Let’s Find Out

There has been a lot of attention cast on the Pirates’ trade moves this season, shipping off popular players like Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan, and, recently, the rather unpopular Adam LaRoche.

There has also been a lot of attention paid to the minor leaguers who were called up to serve as their replacements: rookie centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones.

While McCutchen has been a true delight to watch on the field with his athleticism, speed, and natural instincts as a ball-player, Jones has been quite the enigma.

A 14th-round draft choice of the Atlanta Braves in 1999, Jones was released in May of 2002, and then signed to a minor league contract by the Minnesota Twins, where he played seven seasons in their system and a total of 12 games with the big league team before being granted free agency on November 3, 2008. A month later, he signed a minor league deal with the Pirates, was invited to Spring Training, and eventually optioned to AAA Indianapolis before being re-called and making his Pirates’ debut on July 1.

With LaRoche as the recently departed, Jones is now the team leader in home runs with nine. (Ironically, LaRoche had only 12, and at the current pace, Jones would’ve probably passed him by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.)

But Jones’ nearly-Ruthian performance in his first 17 games in Pittsburgh has everybody asking the same question: Is this guy for real? Let’s weigh the evidence and find out.

Reasons Why Garrett Jones Is For Real

1. 9 HR in 17 games. Anytime a guy comes up from the minors and gets off to a hot start, he’s going to turn heads. And he hasn’t just hit nine home runs. He’s smacked the tar out of them. Not to mention, 15 of his 21 hits so far have come for extra bases, and he’s slugging .821.

2. He’s hitting left-handers. Of the nine home runs, four have been against left-handers. He came close to a fifth off lefty side-winder Mitch Stetter.

3. His list of victims. Pedro Feliciano, Andrew Miller, Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, J.C. Romero, Bob Howry, Tim Lincecum, Carlos Villenueva, and Jeff Suppan. That means out of that group of pitchers he has gone deep on a total of four first round draft picks, two All-Stars, a Cy Young winner and a World Series MVP. That’s a resume the average good-looking frat boy can’t even top.

4. He’s hitting the ball really hard. He hit one in Philly that only Ryan Howard has beaten in distance, muscled a change-up the opposite way over the spacious left field at PNC Park, and deposited his walk-off shot in last Friday night’s extra-inning win into the Allegheny River on one hop.

Another thing to mention: the majority of his home runs have been line drives, as opposed to towering fly balls. Any guy hitting a line drive that hard and that far should be paid a lot of attention.

(In other news, I have unofficially dubbed the Allegheny River “Garrett Jones’ Locker.” Don’t be mad cause you didn’t think of it!)

5. His hitting approach. Two of his home runs have been hit on the first pitch, one on an 0-1 count, one in an 1-0 count, one in a 1-1 count, one in a 2-1 count, two in a 3-1 count and one in a full count.

What this means is that he has a good enough hitting eye that he is getting himself into favorable counts, and as a result, getting good pitches to drive. Patience like that is rarely exhibited in so few Major League at-bats.

He also has seven walks and a .378 on-base percentage. Even without the demonstrated power, his ability to get on base is helpful. He walked on five pitches with two outs to set up Ryan Doumit’s first-inning, two-run home run in yesterday’s win.

6. Speed and athleticism. At 6’4″, 245 lbs., he would seem to be better suited as Willie Parker’s lead blocker with the Steelers than John Russell’s #3 hitter. But he can also run the bases well. So far he has stolen three bases for the Pirates, and stole 14 in 18 attempts at Indy.

Reasons Why Garrett Jones Isn’t For Real

1. 47 combined games of MLB experience. When he was first called up by Minnesota in 2007, he hit only .208 with two home runs and five RBIs in 31 games, a far cry from his totals in Pittsburgh. He also struck out 20 times with only six walks.

2. He’s a career minor leaguer. And his numbers would indicate an average-to-above-average one, at best. His one standout season was in 2004, when he hit 30 home runs with 92 RBIs at AA New Britain. He matched the RBI totals twice in AAA, but never the home runs and the .949 OPS; the best after that was last year’s .821.

3. Not producing enough runs. How does a guy with an average of a home run every other game not produce enough runs? Simple. When all of the home runs are solo home runs. Kind of reminds you of Jason Bay when he was still a Pirate.

4. He’s 28. It is believed that once you reach your mid-to-late 20’s as a player, essentially, you are what you are. Usually, by 28, if you’re not in the majors, you’re out of baseball altogether. But there have been a few exceptional cases of late bloomers. Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington cited the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Casey Blake as the most recent.

5. No MLB experience with his former team. Many have asked if Garrett Jones is so good, then why didn’t he play in Minnesota? The answer is because the man ahead of him at his natural position of first base was Justin Morneau. And from 2005-08, the time that Jones was with AAA Rochester, Morneau hit a combined 110 HR’s with 449 RBIs, made two All-Star teams, and won two Silver Slugger awards and an MVP award. (Then again, maybe this isn’t a knock against Jones after all.)

Bottom Line: After weighing all the statistical evidence and recalling two eyewitness sightings of the subject in question, I have decided that I believe that Garrett Jones is legit for the reasons I listed above, plus more.

Many may not be impressed with his minor league OPS totals or his home run numbers, but his career average of at-bats per home run was a little more than 24. (To compare, Morneau’s was just over 21.) That ratio isn’t on the level of a Hall of Famer, but it’s respectable enough to notice and cement himself as one of the Pirates’ true home run threats.

I have seen this guy hit live twice, and every ball I have seen him hit has been hit hard. His ability to drive the ball when he gets it on the barrel of the bat makes him lethal with every swing. Also, Pirates’ hitting coach Don Long worked extensively with Jones in Spring Training on his approach and adjusting his swing to maximize his power potential. I think it’s safe to say it’s working.

Am I saying Garrett Jones is going to save the Pirates from nearly two decades of despair? No. Am I calling him the second coming of Willie Stargell? No. Am I saying he’s a viable replacement at first base for Adam LaRoche? Well, he could be.

But if nothing else, Garrett Jones has provided Pittsburgh a true left-handed power bat, something it has lacked for nearly six years, since Brian Giles was traded. And that alone is a reason to give him every chance he can get to help the Pirates’ lineup.

After all, what better option is there?

Top Fan 2 Semi-Finals

Well, JTR followers, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is I absolutely suck as a blogger, if for no other reason than because I just don’t do it often enough for it to matter.

The good news is regardless of that, I have once again come within reach of a very significant career goal. I am, once again, in the finals for the ESPN Radio 1250 “Top Fan” contest. The winner will receive a six-month contract to work with ESPN Radio 1250, including opportunities to perform on the air as a sports-talk radio personality.

The finals for the contest will take place next Thursday afternoon, from 4 to 6 at the Meadows Race Track near Washington, Pa. For those who would like to come out and support me, I would greatly appreciate it.

I competed in this event last year, where I was the first runner-up to Chris Mueller. Chris performed admirably as Pittsburgh’s first ever “Top Fan”, and set the bar high for myself and the three others who are trying to follow him.

I took the time over the last few days to try and figure out what I did wrong in last year’s competition that may have been the difference between winning and finishing second. I concluded that the one thing I did wrong was I didn’t behave as though I wanted to win. I was just happy being in the finals of the contest, meeting Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and sports media legend Beano Cook, and being on the air with the Junker and Crow show.

This time around, satisfaction does not come as easy. I have one goal: win.

As the semi-final round completed tonight, I realized that I received even more support than I did last year, when, as host Chris Mack described, I came, “this close” to winning the event. The support is a beautiful thing. The fact that I got such high marks from the judges is amazing.

But it will be for naught if I don’t finish what I started.

It was a long year from last year’s competition up until now. I had to re-examine a lot of things in my life, including what I really wanted as far as opportunity. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I do want an opportunity like this, not only to be on the air, but to be able to take what talents I have been blessed with, and share them with others.

I honestly believe this is the opportunity for me to help bring a new era of sports-talk radio to Pittsburgh. I believe this town has become one of the best sports cities, and it’s time that a City of Champions has champion-caliber media to feed it with knowledge and entertainment.

That’s where I come in.

My love of sports is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the depth of my ambitions, and with this opportunity I hope to plunge deep underneath the surface in order to find the true depth of my career in sports media.

A year ago, I considered this opportunity the end-all, the end of a road I had been traveling to get to the next level, but now things are different.

Winning this contest is no longer the end for me. It is merely the beginning.