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5 Pittsburgh Pirates The young Bucs can play, but they're not ready to record their greatest hits

March 29, 1999
March 29, 1999

Table of Contents
March 29, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
1999 Baseball Preview

5 Pittsburgh Pirates The young Bucs can play, but they're not ready to record their greatest hits

During their preseason publicity caravan, the Pirates often
reminded folks that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the
franchise's last championship--the 1979 club, which swung to
Sister Sledge's We Are Family. But the Bucs' p.r. crew didn't
suggest a song that might serve as the most fitting sound track
to this season, so here are a few possibilities culled from the
Billboard Hot 100 that hit the stands the week spring training
opened.

This is an article from the March 29, 1999 issue Original Layout

--No Scrubs, by TLC. The most noticeable difference between
these Pirates and last season's team, which scored the
second-fewest runs in the majors, is that this year's model is
chock-full o' real big leaguers instead of unproven kids. "We
thought we needed to bring in some older players," says manager
Gene Lamont. "We've got to give our younger guys more time in
the minors."

So, gone are shortstop Kevin Polcovich, he of the .189 average,
and, at least for the time being, 20-year-old third baseman
Aramis Ramirez, who whiffed 72 times in 72 games. Into their
respective spots come veteran free agents Pat Meares and Ed
Sprague. The team also picked up outfielder Brian Giles,
utilityman Mike Benjamin and lefthander Pete Schourek. "It's
outstanding," says catcher Jason Kendall of the team's age
movement. "The important thing is that they brought in a bunch
of dirt dogs, guys who want to win."

Acquired from the Indians for reliever Ricardo Rincon, the
28-year-old Giles will finally get the chance to show what he
can do as a full-time starter in left after spending most of the
last three seasons as the Tribe's fourth outfielder. Based on
his career numbers, he would rack up 25 homers, 101 RBIs and 17
steals over a 550 at-bat season. Giles was always one of the
kids in Cleveland, but on the Bucs he finds himself in the role
of elder statesman. "The guys here look up to you because you've
been on a team that has won and you know how to win," he says.

Winning types have been a rarity in Pittsburgh lately. Last year
the team broke camp with only one player--utility infielder Doug
Strange--who had postseason experience. Benjamin, Giles,
Schourek and new centerfielder Brant Brown were all playing in
October, and Sprague earned two World Series rings with the Blue
Jays.

--One Hit Wonder, by Everclear. One youngster who survived the
purge is 22-year-old rightfielder Jose Guillen. In 1997 he
jumped from Class A to the majors and hit 14 homers and drove in
70 runs. Guillen followed that up by batting .337 over the first
two months of last season, and Pittsburghers found themselves
bandying about the C-word--Clemente--rather liberally. But his
performance the rest of the way (.234, nine homers) brought the
F-word--Frobel--to the tips of fans' tongues. For the Pirates'
offense to click, it's imperative that Guillen pick up some of
the RBI load from first baseman Kevin Young.

--Ex-Factor, by Lauryn Hill. When second baseman Tony Womack
became an ex-Pirate, the team saved the $1.65 million he is
scheduled to make this year. But by trading him to the
Diamondbacks for a prospect, they also lost the National
League's stolen-base champ. The Bucs plan to use Benjamin or
rookie Warren Morris at second, while Lamont will ask Kendall to
lead off. Using a catcher atop the order is rare, but so are
catchers with a .411 on-base percentage and 26 steals, which
were Kendall's numbers last year.

--Watch for the Hook, by Cool Breeze. While they're at it,
opponents should watch out for the heat, as well. Say what you
will about Pittsburgh's inability to score runs, but this team
has a potent pitching staff. "We've got a great rotation," says
Kendall. "All five of them can go out there at any time and
shove it up anybody's tail."

He's as right as he is blunt. The Pirates' ERA of 3.91 was 0.32
runs lower than the National League average. No team has lost 93
or more games and finished that far under the league average.
Especially nasty is Francisco Cordova, who with his four pitches
and several arm angles, can give hitters a dozen looks.

--Save Tonight, by Eagle-Eye Cherry. Give Rich Loiselle a lead
tonight, and that's probably what he'll do. Note, however, that
the song isn't called Save Today. Loiselle converted 16 of 21
save opportunities and had a 2.35 ERA under the lights but blew
half his six saves and had a 5.94 ERA during the day. Still, the
27-year-old righthander is the capable anchor of a bullpen that
had the majors' third-lowest ERA (3.36).

--Believe, by Cher. Pittsburgh's off-season moves, coupled with
its talented arms, have hopes running high in the Steel City.
"We can contend," Giles says, and several of his teammates echo
that sentiment. But the Pirates are at least a year or two away,
and if they don't temper their enthusiasm with some realism,
they'll find themselves singing along to a different
hit--Whitney Houston's Heartbreak Hotel.

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN REID III/MLB PHOTOS After being named an All-Star for the second time last season, Kendall will become a member of an even more select group: catchers who lead off.COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 69-93 (sixth in NL Central)

BATTING AVERAGE .254 (11)
RUNS SCORED 650 (15)
HOME RUNS 107 (16)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .259 (7)
ERA 3.91 (6)
FIELDING PCT. .977 (15)

He's Hittable

Jason Kendall has been hit by a pitch 77 times, including 31
times in each of the past two seasons. Kendall, who turns 25 on
June 26, is the youngest player to be plunked that many times in
a season. In fact only 18 players have been hit by 100 pitches,
and none of them reached that total before their 28th birthday;
the youngest to reach the 100-HBP mark are listed below.

Player, Team Year Age at 100th Times Hit by Pitch,
HBP Career

Ron Hunt, Giants 1969 28 243*
Don Baylor, Angels 1979 29 267[**]
Chet Lemon, Tigers 1984 29 151
Frank Robinson, Reds 1964 29 198
Craig Biggio, Astros 1997 31 142
Bill Freehan, Tigers 1973 31 114

*Career National League record
[**]Career major league record

Next Up...

Pirates second baseman of the future Warren Morris has something
in common with Pirates second baseman of the past Bill
Mazeroski: Each has won a championship with a ninth-inning home
run. Maz, of course, toppled the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960
World Series, while Morris turned the trick for LSU in the title
game of the '96 College World Series. After hitting .331 with 19
homers and 103 RBIs in Double A last year, Morris appears ready
to take over for the departed Tony Womack. Says Mazeroski of
Morris, "Once he gets his fundamentals down and quickens up his
footwork, he's going to be a good one."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Gene Lamont (third season with Pittsburgh)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

C Jason Kendall R 49 .327 12 75 26
SS Pat Meares[1] R 205 .260 9 70 7
LF Brian Giles[1] L 96 .269 16 66 10
1B Kevin Young R 80 .270 27 108 15
CF Brant Brown[1] L 115 .291 14 48 4
3B Ed Sprague[1] R 176 .222 20 58 1
RF Jose Guillen R 131 .267 14 84 3
2B Warren Morris (R)* L-R 256 .331 19 103 17

BENCH

OF Al Martin L 254 .239 12 47 20
OF Turner Ward S-R 295 .262 9 46 5
IF Mike Benjamin[1] R 314 .272 4 39 3
IF Freddy Garcia R 385 .256 9 26 0
C Keith Osik R 419 .214 0 7 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Francisco Cordova 35 13 14 6.7 1.24 3.31
RH Jason Schmidt 64 11 14 6.5 1.40 4.07
LH Pete Schourek[1][**] 93 8 9 5.3 1.43 4.43
RH Jose Silva 124 6 7 5.6 1.34 4.40
LH Chris Peters 180 8 10 5.9 1.33 3.47

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Rich Loiselle 59 2 7 19 1.67 3.44
LH Jason Christiansen 183 3 3 6 1.21 2.51
RH Mike Williams 216 4 2 0 1.08 1.94
RH Marc Wilkins 241 0 0 0 1.43 3.52
RH Elmer Dessens 329 2 6 0 1.54 5.67
LH Jeff Wallace (R)*[***] 304 4 8 3 1.82 5.40

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Double A stats [**]Combined AL and NL stats [***]1997 stats