September 24, 2021

Next?

October 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

John Russell offered a quiet presence and a patience that is either good or bad for a baseball team depending on the personnel.  Three years after thinking it would be the right approach, the Bucs’ front office may have decided a different direction is needed to continue the rebuilding process letting Russell go with one year remaining on his contract.

Russell’s teams progressively got worse with 95, 99, and, most recently, 105 losses during his tenure.  That’s never good.  An increasing trend of negative results will result in firings in any line of work.

While en route to an 18th consecutive losing season (thankfully the other pro and college sports teams in town have been consistent winners), you could finally see the core being built and those players starting to figure out how to be big league players.  Their home record of 40-41 was better than five teams and matched others.

Russell was hired to help Huntington with the transition from patch-together quilt of losers into a young team capable of winning.  While previous GM’s had given lip service to “rebuilding” and former managing partner Kevin McClatchy was always touting the next great rebuilding project as the one to turn around the Pirates’ fortunes, the hiring of Huntington and Russell, along with some of their initial moves, demonstrated more than talk.

For the last decade and a half the team has been nearly void of major league talent and it would need to be stripped of the remaining talent and rebuilt from the ground up.  The little remaining talent would be used as bait to help restock the farm system.  In addition to the trades, the draft would bring in young talent and the farm system would be relied upon to produce.  The revenue sharing money was plowed into player development instead of player purchases.

The approach is beginning to show dividends.  In the last month they were 12-16 with a 10-5 home record.  But while the Pirates’ home record was respectable and their attendance was not reflective of a team with the worst record in baseball, they were wretched on the road at 17-64.  It was no doubt a sign of their immaturity.

Their last road swing, while showing a glimmer of things to come, may have also been the final nail for Russell.  They finished 2-5 on their trip to St. Louis and Florida but could easily been 5-2 had it not been for fielding and base running woes.  The final seven games had miscues that shouldn’t be happening this late in the season, even with a young team.  While the road trip wasn’t a success, it was better than the previous three trips, a combined 2-17.

The Bucs line-up now has four legitimate hitters capable of driving the ball and driving in runs with Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Garrett Jones.  In the previous 17 years the Pirates had one or two at the most.

The questions remains…if the team had shown better on the road in the last month, would Russell have remained?  Young teams often need patience; a manager and staff willing to work through the mistakes.  However, when the same mistakes from April and May are happening in September and October there’s likely to be a fall guy and Russell is it.

He knew what he was signing on for when he agreed to man the helm of the Bucco ship three years ago.  There’s no doubt he’s not the reason for the worst record in baseball this year; the Bucs front office gave him a team that had few major leaguers and wouldn’t hesitate to trade them.  Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, and Connie Mack would have had a difficult time getting a few more wins from the Pirates during the same three-year period.  But agreeing to join a rebuilding project with a club that had only demonstrated an inability to rebuild for over a decade could be considered career suicide.  Managers taking jobs under normal circumstance are hired to be fired; anyone signing on with the Bucs shouldn’t buy a home.

His players never blamed him for the team’s record.  His clubhouse was a pleasant place that seemed to be focused on improving both the players and the team.  If the front office can solve some pitching issues and add a couple more quality field players, Russell could look from afar to see his efforts made a difference with a young club.

Right now he’s just another manager added to the list of skippers who couldn’t right the ship and there’s a sign on the manager’s office door in the Pirates clubhouse that says, “Next.”

Tim is a life-long Pirates fan who aspired to be the next Bob Prince. Of course, the Gunner was replaced before Tim was out of high school and Lanny Frattare got the job but that didn’t stop him from making his way into the press box. Following college, Tim began covering the Pirates, as well as the other pro and college teams in Pittsburgh, for WBZZ-FM and WMBA-AM.

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