To The Alleghenys

At the turn of the last Century, when the American League was formed, the owners of the Junior League began raiding the talent of the much older and more established Senior Circuit. For some reason, they never got around to luring players away from the Pittsburgh Nine. Thus began the bedrock for one of the best franchises in baseball.

In 1901, 1902 & 1903 they won the National League pennant. In 1909 they not only won the NL but also the World Series by defeating the Detroit Tigers. They won the NL pennant in 1925 (and the World Series against the Washington Senators) and in 1927. In 1960 they won it all again as they did in 1971 and 1979.

There were gigantic stars that led these teams through these years. Let’s begin with one of the biggest stars of all time, Honus Wagner. Then there were Paul and Lloyd Waner, Arky Vaughn, Max Carey and “Pie” Traynor. “Kiki” Cuyler, Ralph Kiner, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargel and Roberto Clemente. Dave Parker, Bill Madlock, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Jason Kendall, Gus Bell, Vern Law, Doug Drabek, Preacher Roe, Elroy Face, Bob Friend and Andy Van Slyke all played for the team that is now playing on the banks of the Allegheny.

Now, after 43 years of frustration, the Pirates are on the verge of bringing back a National League Championship title. They were the first team to win 50 games this season, accomplishing that feat last night with their 5th straight sellout of their PNC Park. Entering Sunday, they are one game ahead of St. Louis and 17 1/2 games ahead of last place Milwaukee. They are a remarkable 23-13 at home and 23-17 on the road. Nearing half way in a baseball season that is often compared to a marathon, they are on their way to winning the title again.

This year it is not around the hitting power that has built championship Pirate teams of the past as they rank 20th overall in runs (318); 23rd overall in batting average (.242); 22nd in on base percentage (.308) and 17th in slugging percentage (.395). Sure they have stars like Pedro Alvarez (20 HRs & 53 RBI) and the incomparable Andrew McCutchen (.293 BA) and Starling Marte who has 88 hits so far this season, This season they have pitching. Francisco Liriano won his 7th last night; Jeff Locke has also won 7 games and a 2.07 ERA; A.J. Burnett has 99 K-2s; Jason Grilli has 27 saves and Mark Melancon has 23 holds. Wandy Rodriguez has won 6 and Justin Wilson has won 5.

Of course, pitching wins pennants. This year, after the Pirates had failed to play at least .500 ball for 17 straight seasons that only ended in 2010 (1993-2009) the stain of failure in the past is about to be obliterated. The Pirates have finally figured out how to win and that was not by following the hitting exploits of most of those listed above but by following the legendary figures of Face and Friend; Ellis and Drabek to championship victory.

To the City where Black & Gold mean championships in sports, you are on the verge of doing it all again.

Play Ball!

Time To Pick Your National League All-Stars Before The Season Begins

Let’s get to it. We’ve seen the first couple of weeks of Spring Training and now the regulars will be in the lineups until the season begins. This is also the time when many get their fantasy teams together. Now you get to pick who you think are the All-Stars in the National League (American League next week) before the season begins. You can do this by going to:

First Basemen to consider:  Joey Votto, Cincinnati. Now that Howard is not yet ready to play after his off season operation and both Fielder and Pujols this year are in the American League, Votto seems like the logical choice to top this position. Also in the race are Mike Morris, Washington; Lance Berkman, the former right fielder from St. Louis and Freddie Freedman of Atlanta.

Second Basemen to consider: Last year’s top selection, Rickie Weeks from Milwaukee is bashing the ball again this Spring. But Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati; Chase Utley, Philadelphia and Freddy Sanchez, San Francisco seem the likely contenders.

Third Basemen to consider: Amaris Ramirez, Milwaukee; David Wright, New York; Ryan Zimmerman, Washington and Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco seem like the top choices.

Shortstops to consider: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado, is once again having a great Spring. But then again, so are Starlin Castro, Chicago, Jose Reyes, Miami and you can’t forget Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia. Probably the best depth in all of baseball. I’ve seen both Tulo and Castro play this Spring and they are terrific.

Left Field is also another crammed position. Last year’s All-Star and league MVP, Ryan Braun, Milwaukee leads the list. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago; Matt Holliday, St. Louis; and Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati seem ready. You decide.

In Center Field there is real race. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles, is once again ready to begin his MVP hunt. But then there is one of the most consistent Center Fielders in all of baseball, Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh. Do not forget Christ Young, Arizona and Shane Victorino of Philadelphia. The ‘Flyin Hawaiian’ is always exciting. You make the choice.

In Right Field, last year’s All-Star selection, Cory Hart, Milwaukee, will be ready for Opening Day. The exciting Justin Upton, Arizona; Carlos Beltran, St. Louis and Hunter Pence, Philadelphia will all be vying for the top spot. You choose.

And behind the plate, we have Yadier Molina, St. Louis; Buster Posey, San Francisco; Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee and Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia. Who do you like?

Go to the survey link above and let’s see who we will collectively choose. I announce it before the season begins.

Now, go vote.