5 Pittsburgh Pirates Keep the faith in this gradually improving club. First baseman Randall Simon has

March 31, 2003

If, in the course of a five-minute conversation with new first
baseman Randall Simon, you do not hear God's name evoked
repeatedly, it's a rare day, indeed. "God is my friend," says the
6-foot, 230-pound Simon, who has a refrigerator-sized cross
dangling from his neck. "God has watched over me only like God
can, and if God protects me like God has protected me, then God
will make sure God is doing God's best for God and me."

Translation: God is on the Pirates' side. Which, for a franchise
that has failed to reach .500 for 10 straight seasons, is much
better than having Derek Bell look after you. So strong is
Simon's faith that he feels comfortable making a prediction that,
should it come true, would rival any partings of the sea or
burning shrubs for impact. "Pittsburgh," he says, "is going to
challenge for the playoffs."

In the unlikely event this happens, fans in the Steel City will
be looking with great reverence to another larger-than-life
being. Simon may not have arrived from Detroit with the fanfare
that would have accompanied, say, Jason Giambi or Jim Thome, but
by trading for Simon in November, general manager Dave
Littlefield added much-needed pop to the big leagues' worst
offense. Last year the Pirates had the lowest batting average
(.244) in the majors, and their 140 homers and 610 RBIs ranked
14th and 15th, respectively, in the National League.

Although starring for the Tigers in 2002 earned him as much
acclaim as Eddie Murphy got for The Adventures of Pluto Nash,
Simon amounted to a one-man wrecking crew for Detroit. He led the
team in batting average (.301), homers (19) and RBIs (82) while
playing his home games in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park. That
big year--his first full season in the majors--was a long time
coming for the native of Seru Fortuno, Curacao, who, as a chunky
17-year-old, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Braves
in 1992.

Simon has always battled a weight problem, but his delayed
development was more the result of his approach to hitting. He is
a ferociously hard swinger who seldom strikes out (30 times in
506 plate appearances last season) and rarely walks (13 times);
he dazzles with his sonic moon shots but frustrates with his puny
on-base percentage (.320). "There's a lot of talent there," says
Littlefield. "But Randall has never put it all together. Maybe
here he can."

In only 1 1/2 years Littlefield has started turning around the
Pirates, who improved by 10 games last season from 2001. Under
former general manager Cam Bonifay, Pittsburgh spent a combined
$97 million on outfielder Bell, catcher Jason Kendall, shortstop
Pat Meares and first baseman Kevin Young. Those were all terrible
signings for a low-revenue team, and they put the franchise in a
hole that it won't get out of until the declining Kendall's $60
million contract expires after the 2006 season. (Bell is retired,
Meares is sidelined for the season after suffering a fractured
bone and torn tendons in two of his fingers, while Young is still
with the team.)

With a $49 million payroll to work with, Littlefield has worked
wonders. He swindled emerging righthanded starters Josh Fogg and
Kip Wells from the White Sox before last season, and now--with
righty Kris Benson healthy after reconstructive elbow surgery in
May 2001 and righty Jeff Suppan arriving from Kansas City as a
free agent in January--Pittsburgh has the division's third-best
rotation, behind Chicago's and Houston's. After Littlefield
acquired Simon, he signed outfielders Kenny Lofton, Reggie
Sanders and Matt Stairs--a trio of low-risk, potential
high-reward free agents. All three are proven playoff performers,
with Lofton and Sanders fresh from appearances in last year's
World Series with the Giants. This year's lineup will be a
significant upgrade over Brian Giles and the Eight Dwarfs of last
season.

Simon, remember, has faith. On the middle of his left cheek there
is a white birthmark the size of a vanilla wafer. When he was a
young boy, his mother, Lucilia, told Simon it was God's way of
making sure he didn't shoplift. "You'll always be easily
identified," she said. "So don't steal. Earn what you get through
hard work."

Simon, recalling the lecture, smiles. "I'm ready to work and work
and work for the city of Pittsburgh," he says. "God wants us to
do well." Amen. --J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS POWERFUL CONNECTIONS In his first full year in the majors, the hard-swinging Simon led Detroit in homers and RBIs.
COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES GILES

IN FACT

Righthander Josh Fogg made 33 starts in 2002, the most by a
Pittsburgh rookie since Sam Leever started 39 games (and made 12
relief appearances) in 1899.

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

"I DON'T look for this club to improve significantly. The lineup
will be slightly better. Kenny Lofton can still get on base and
steal bases. Reggie Sanders is streaky and strikes out a lot, but
he's a threat to hit a home run every time up.... Randall Simon
was a good acquisition, but he can't carry a team. Brian Giles
will have to carry this club. He's a good defensive outfielder,
plays aggressively, and he's one of the best hitters in the
game.... Jason Kendall's numbers have gone down for two seasons.
I think he's been confused over the talk of what position he's
going to play. Catcher? Second base? Outfield? I think he'll turn
it around this year.... Pokey Reese is an outstanding defensive
second basemen, but he's careless at the plate and starts
thinking about hitting home runs. That kills him.... The rotation
is not good. If Kris Benson stays healthy, he'll be the mainstay.
He's throwing well after elbow surgery and should win 15 games.
With a good club he'd win 18 to 20.... Josh Fogg and Kip Wells
did a decent job last year, and if they can repeat that
performance, the team will be elated. Don't count on it.... The
bullpen will be better because they added Matt Herges."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Lofton
C Kendall
LF Giles
3B Ramirez
1B Simon
RF Sanders
SS J. Wilson
2B Reese

KENNY LOFTON* [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 103 .261 11 51 29

JASON KENDALL

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 205 .283 3 44 15

BRIAN GILES

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 12 .298 38 103 15

ARAMIS RAMIREZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 112 .234 18 71 2

RANDALL SIMON [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 89 .301 19 82 0

REGGIE SANDERS [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 92 .250 23 85 18

JACK WILSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 316 .252 4 47 5

POKEY REESE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 213 .264 4 50 12

BENCH

CRAIG WILSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 223 .263 16 57 2

ROB MACKOWIAK

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 307 .244 16 48 9

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kris Benson 94 9 6 5.2 1.55 4.70
RH Kip Wells 80 12 14 6.0 1.35 3.58
RH Josh Fogg 86 12 12 5.9 1.38 4.35
RH Jeff Suppan [#] 177 9 16 6.3 1.43 5.32
RH Jeff D'Amico [#] 191 6 10 5.9 1.30 4.94

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Mike Williams 27 2 6 46 1.22 2.93
LH Scott Sauerbeck 200 5 4 0 1.23 2.30
RH Brian Boehringer 222 4 4 1 1.23 3.39

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Combined AL and NL stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

72--89
fourth in NL Central

MANAGER

Lloyd McClendon
third season with Pittsburgh

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)