Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Ron Cook offers his condolences in this column dated yesterday.

If/when the Pirates fall six games under .500, that's when I start shoveling dirt on the coffin. They could still rise from the grave, but recent experience suggests this rarely happens. Until they fall six games under, I'm game. I prefer not to think much on the possibility of making the playoffs or putting the Brewers in their place, sure, but I'm around and I'm paying attention and I would not be surprised to see the Pirates rattle off seven or eight wins in a ten-game stretch. Two starters are pitching like aces, after all, and the hitters have laid up massive hidden vigorish to enjoy in the warmer weather.

My point is not to be cheerfully optimistic or make a virtue of seeing the glass as half full only three games under half full. My point is that most teams are average, the Pirates could be average, and even the average team can surprise and hold a winning record. Just about any team can bump along at .500 ball, and it's not highly unlikely that an average team could finish five to ten games above .500. So until we know for sure that the Pirates are not as good as any run-of-the-mill ballclub, then my attitude will be to wait and see. The standings will tell me when the team truly sucks.

Why six games? That's a good question. If I'm so sure an average team could finish the year six games over, why, you might ask (humor me), why worry about falling six games under?

I draw the line at six games because of the learned helplessness. This appears to have characterized the Pirates' locker room in recent years. I think six games under might be something that would lead to that slackening of desire, that neglect of daily study of the standings, and that kind of pathetic, sheepish, we-will-hustle demneanor that prompts guys like Tony LaRussa to juggle the rotation so no ace is wasted on the Pirates. Such conditions might lead to .500 ball the rest of the way, as they did last year, but they are not going to make up the six games because that would change the environment in which the helpless find comfort.

A team can make up two or three games pretty easy on a ten-game homestand. They can't make up six games without winning 8 of 10. So I see a big difference between three and six games under .500. In the first case, a hot or good or lucky week could lead to that outpouring of optimism and media attention that attends the Pirates as they hold a .500 record. In the second case, the team requires a much more sustained period of winning. This puts the .500 record more than a week away with medium luck and good play. That's too long to wait. Enter the learned helplessness.

That said, I'm not really a sports psychologist. I just play one on my blog.

I am a patient guy. The standings will tell me when to stop paying attention. Right now I see a faint glimmer of life in this team. I can wait to see what they can do with it.

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