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6 Pittsburgh Pirates Brian Giles is a superstar, but the naked truth is: The rest of this team stinks

March 25, 2002
March 25, 2002

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March 25, 2002

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6 Pittsburgh Pirates Brian Giles is a superstar, but the naked truth is: The rest of this team stinks

On the next to last day of 2001 spring training, rain poured
down on Bradenton, Fla., postponing that afternoon's game
between the Pirates and the visiting Yankees. For Pittsburgh it
was yet another spirit-dampening moment in a year that would be
full of them--a National League-high 100 losses, 17 players on
the disabled list, the firing of general manager Cam Bonifay.
Heck, Opening Day hadn't arrived, and already three of rookie
manager Lloyd McClendon's starting pitchers were injured. The
mood was grim.

This is an article from the March 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

Later that afternoon, as many of the Pirates took BP,
leftfielder Brian Giles stripped off all his clothing and asked
a teammate to tape a 24, Giles's number, onto his bare back.
Clad only in his socks and shoes, Giles stepped stone-faced into
the cage. The eruption of laughter could be heard back in
Pittsburgh.

It was a not-so-subtle message from baseball's most unheralded
superstar to his teammates: Yeah, we stink, but we can still
have fun. "Nudity is how I deal with things when there are a lot
of problems," says Giles, laughing. "When times are bad, you
have to do something to snap everyone out of it."

Although the punchless Pirates never did snap out of it--they
finished under .500 for a franchise-record ninth consecutive
season--the last man to blame is Giles, who has emerged as
Pittsburgh's brightest light since Barry Bonds skipped town a
decade ago. Last year Giles joined Ralph Kiner and Willie
Stargell to become only the third Pirate to hit 30 homers in
three straight seasons. He also tied Dave Parker's club record
for total bases by a lefthanded hitter (340) and struck out only
67 times, tying Gary Sheffield for the lowest total among major
leaguers with at least 35 homers and 90 RBIs.

"If Brian played in New York or Los Angeles, he'd be a superstar
of the greatest magnitude," says reliever Mike Fetters. "He might
be anonymous among spectators, but if you're a pitcher in this
league, you know who Brian Giles is."

"He's one of the top 10 outfielders in the majors," adds
McClendon, "and he's also one of the wackiest s.o.b.'s you'll
ever meet."

Last June, upon being ejected from a game against Milwaukee,
McClendon yanked first base from the ground and took it with him
into the clubhouse. The next day Giles taped a picture of
McClendon to the base, placed the bag in his own locker and
surrounded it with candles to complete the makeshift shrine. It
fit in perfectly next to the miniature singing turkey and deer
already residing there. "In this sport, with all the games, you
have to remain upbeat," says Giles. "A clubhouse that's quiet
and down is a clubhouse that's not winning."

Unfortunately for Giles, Pittsburgh's clubhouse could be Studio
54 and the Pirates still wouldn't have much of a chance. When
Bonifay was let go last June, he left behind a legacy--with the
notable exception of obtaining Giles from the Indians in 1999
for reliever Ricardo Rincon--of horrific trades, ghastly
free-agent signings and a $48 million payroll burdened by
ridiculous guarantees. Bonifay will long be remembered as the
man who, before last season, signed eccentric outfielder Derek
Bell to a two-year, $9 million deal (with a $5 million option
for 2003). Bell, first baseman Kevin Young and shortstop Pat
Meares will cost Pittsburgh $24 million over the next two
seasons, which means new general manager Dave Littlefield can do
little except acquire journeymen and hope for help from the farm
system.

Giles will hear none of it. "We've used all the excuses," he
says. "Our new stadium last year, young talent, injuries, a
tough division. Now we have to go out and win."

The Buc-naked star smiles. No matter what, he'll have fun
trying. --J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: STEVE MOORE Giles generates plenty of power and locker room levity, but the state of the Pirates is no joking matter.COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND/GETTY IMAGES KENDALL

In FACT
Reacquired reliever Mike Williams's 29 career wins are the most
of any active Pirates pitcher.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Pirates

"You talk about working 24/7? G.M. Dave Littlefield is going to
have to work 48/14 to resurrect this club. This is an expansion
team. It's awful. The best indicator is that the first two guys
in the rotation are Kip Wells and Jimmy Anderson. What do they
have, 20 career wins combined?... Sean Lowe is a responsible
starter, and Dave Williams is O.K., but the bullpen? Yech. Mike
Williams is a decent setup guy, but on this club he's the
closer.... The infield, with Kevin Young, Pokey Reese, Jack
Wilson and Aramis Ramirez, is below average. If all the stars
align and everybody has a career year, it can be functional....
Ramirez had a breakout year, but he has to do it again to
establish himself. Reese has to get back to his decent years,
Wilson doesn't hit, and Young doesn't produce as a first
baseman.... Brian Giles is a first-division player, but how many
pitches is he going to see? If you pitch around Ramirez and
Giles, the Pirates aren't going to score any runs.... As for the
rest of the outfield, Adrian Brown is a good defensive player,
Armando Rios is still hurt from blowing out his knee and Derek
Bell is awful. He may be done.... The surprise in their camp was
Rob Mackowiak, who's a John Vander Wal-type of player.... Jason
Kendall has leadership skills, and he can hit a little, but no
way in hell is he a $10 million-a-year player. The load is on his
shoulders, and he's not that kind of player. He also has to pick
it up defensively."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

CF Adrian Brown* S-R 248 .315 4 28 13
2B Pokey Reese[1] R 202 .224 9 40 25
3B Aramis Ramirez R 50 .300 34 112 5
LF Brian Giles L 44 .309 37 95 13
C Jason Kendall R 166 .266 10 53 13
1B Kevin Young R 191 .232 14 65 15
RF Armando Rios L 211 .260 14 50 3
SS Jack Wilson R 321 .223 3 25 1

BENCH

OF Craig Wilson R 305 .310 13 32 3
IF Rob Mackowiak L-R 334 .266 4 21 4
OF Derek Bell R 357 .173 5 13 0

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

RH Kip Wells[1] 154 10 11 5.2 1.55 4.79
LH Jimmy Anderson 194 9 17 6.1 1.53 5.10
RH Sean Lowe[1] 146 9 4 5.1 1.22 3.61
LH Dave Williams 210 3 7 5.8 1.27 3.71
LH Ron Villone[1] 223 6 10 4.8 1.62 5.89

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH Mike Williams[1] 139 6 4 22 1.48 3.80
RH Mike Fetters 204 3 2 9 1.58 5.51
LH Scott Sauerbeck 282 2 2 2 1.61 5.60

[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)

*2000 stats

Manager
Lloyd McClendon
second season with Pittsburgh

2001 record
62-100
sixth in NL Central

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Brown
Wilson
Reese

Good Leather

Giles
Rios
Bell
Young
Kendall

Iron Hands

Wells
Ramirez