The press conference will begin momentarily, so that the nation's newspapers will have plenty of time to lead with the blockbuster in tomorrow's sports sections. Neal Huntington, the Pirates general manager, will wear a sports jacket. A gold tie, too. His hair will be combed. Teeth brushed. Everyone in attendance will be offered a choice of water or Coca-Cola. Glasses will be provided. Chairs as well. Wood ones, not plastic.
This is how things are done these days at PNC Park. Classy. Smart. Are the Pirates en route to greatness? Look no further than the team Web site, where yesterday's lead headline beamed, PIRATES ADD VETERAN LOPEZ TO LEFTY BULLPEN MIX! (Admittedly, I've added the exclamation point. But, hey, it's not every day a team signs a pitcher with major league experience who literally nobody has heard of). There are big days ahead in the Steel City. Huge! Gigantic!
Oh, wait, it's about to start
"Ladies and gentlemen, the man sitting to my left needs no introduction," says Huntington, beaming from dimple to dimple. "He's someone we've been interested in for a long time; someone who can restore honor and a winning attitude to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. We are committed to excellence here in Pittsburgh, and that's why this is such a historic day in our franchise's history. I'm pleased to introduce the newest member of the Pirates family, a proven winner and a future Hall of Famer ..."
You are wondering if this can happen.
You are wondering if any team would be crazy enough to sign an unproductive, uncooperative utility infielder stripped of his range, his pop and his health.
Your question can be answered with a single word: Yes.
And yet, perhaps it won't be Nomar. Perhaps it will be Jermaine Dye or Rocco Baldelli; Melvin Mora or Orlando Cabrera; Carl Pavano or Miguel Olivo. Names be damned, you can be guaranteed that, at some point this offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates, owners of 17-straight losing seasons, 17 remaining season-ticket holders and a 17-percent chance of winning more than 20 games in 2010 will make an inane acquisition. It is all but written.
Throughout the majors, lowly franchises everywhere are doing their thing -- which means lavishing funds upon men who should be either playing for the Newark Bears, coaching the Newark Bears or watching the Newark Bears from the stands. Two weeks ago, the Kansas City Royals signed Jason Kendall, a 35-year-old catcher and perhaps the game's worst player, to a two-year, $6 million deal. Shortly before that, the Washington Nationals added to their roster the skeletal remains of Pudge Rodriguez, also for a mere $6 million over two years -- thus depriving the Pirates of a chance to relive the Benito Santiago Era (OK, the Benito Santiago Week: six games played in 2005)
This is what bad franchises do when they're officially, unambiguously, unanimously pegged as bad franchises: They act stupidly. Some of it stems from sheer desperation, and some from poor decision-making skills. Mostly, however, it's a flimsy effort to fool the fan base; to hope that the illusion of an effort to compete cons enough bored city residents into coming out to the 'ol park and buying a hot dog and a collectable seat cushion. The Royals, whose Kendall signing is a near-replica of the past acquisitions of Doug Mientkiewicz and Reggie Sanders, excel at the trick. So does Washington, where the rosters are generally loaded with Jose Guillens and Preston Wilsons -- recognizable players -- but only because they stink
Nobody, however, outdoes Pittsburgh. Seemingly year after year, the Pirates complete one boneheaded off-season move, then overhype it in an effort to hoodwink naive loyalists into thinking the organization is on the right track. Last year it was bringing in Eric Hinske, the long-ago AL Rookie of the Year who now evokes comparisons to a middle-aged Hensley Meulens. In 2008, it was the addition of Mientkiewicz (when it comes to bad teams, big Doug gets around). In 2007, it was the addition of Elmer Dessens. In 2006, it was the addition of Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey and Joe Randa (ie: The Holy Trinity of quintessential Pirate signees). The list goes on and on -- a Wayne Krenchicki Tribute Band brought to fruition.
Of course, 2010 is different. This year, led by Garciaparra, the Pirates will surely sneak up on people. "I didn't come here because it was my only option," Nomar says in the press conference, a black-and-gold Pirates cap covering his head. "I had a lot of options. No, I came here because I like the direction this team is taking, and I want to be there when the Pirates win the World Series."
Heck, so do I.
Sadly, humans rarely live more than 100 years.