Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dapper Dan Awards: Top honors for Malkin, Penn State volleyball

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When Evgeni Malkin's parents got rock star treatment during the Stanley Cup run, the bond between the Russian-born star and Pittsburgh entered the realm of extraordinary.

"The fans and the people of Pittsburgh have been like family to me," he said. "It's my second home."

Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

Penguins Evgeni Malkin

To that end, after winning the NHL scoring title, earning playoff MVP honors and parading the Stanley Cup along city streets, Malkin has added a new award to his trophy case. He is the Dapper Dan sportsman of the year for 2009.

And for the first time, the Dapper Dan sportswoman award belongs to a team rather than an individual. The Penn State women's volleyball team, having won three consecutive national championships to cement its status as a dynasty, has made history again.

The winners, along with lifetime achievement award honoree Bruno Sammartino, will appear Thursday, March 25, at the 2010 Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction presented by BNY Mellon. In addition, winners will be announced for best play, best sports moment and breakthrough athlete. The event will be held at the Petersen Events Center.

Malkin, 23, hails from the steel town of Magnitogorsk, which means Iron City, where the local hockey team is called Metallurg, which means Steelers. He may not recognize the names of past Dapper Dan winners such as Billy Conn, Bullet Bill Dudley or Ralph Kiner, but he joins a growing list of Penguins to win the city's oldest and most prestigious sports award.

Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, coach Bob Johnson and Sidney Crosby are all part of Dapper Dan lore.

"It's a tremendous honor," Malkin said. "I want to thank the fans and all the people who voted. It's like a dream."

Ballots were cast through the mail and on-line, with final decisions made by the Dapper Dan's six-person executive committee.

Now in his fourth season, Malkin has come a long, long way in a short time.

"For a young man who had to learn a new language and a new culture, it's been a tough transition in a lot of ways," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "But you're finding a guy who's comfortable being with a young team in this city. He's a fun-loving kid with a great personality. There's something real personal about how Pittsburgh embraced him and his family."

And of course, success goes hand in glove with hometown awards.

"There are other great players in the league that are young. Others seem to be as dynamic. But with both Sid and Geno, there's more to it than just scoring and more to it than being good players," Bylsma said. "There's been winning and there's been a championship at a young age. That coincides with the relationship they have with the fans."

Malkin's parents, Natalia and Vladimir, may be on hand for the banquet. They're coming from Russia to see him in the Olympics and will stay for the remainder of the NHL season. The 17th Street Café on the South Side, still offers a dish called Mama Malkin's Borscht. The restaurant sold 350 gallons of it during the Stanley Cup finals. Now that's some home cooking.

Penn State celebrates their third straight NCAA national championship.

At Penn State, meanwhile, the women's volleyball team last lost on Sept. 15, 2007, to Stanford. Since then, there have been 102 consecutive victories and three national titles.

"It's a great honor," coach Russ Rose said of the Dapper Dan award. "I'm proud to accept it on their behalf, but it's all about the players. It's a great collection of kids who worked really hard."

Although nobody on the current roster is from western Pennsylvania, Rose said Penn State ascended to national prominence with Pittsburgh area talent.

"In the early years, half of our team was from western Pennsylvania. All of them shaped the program and the culture of success," he said.

He specifically mentioned Christa Harmotto of Hopewell High School, a three-time All-American who was a big factor on some national championship teams. She was previously nominated for Dapper Dan sportswoman of the year.

"Not very many people are as deserving of recognition for the type of person she is," Rose said. "She was all about the concept of team. She was the heartbeat of our team."

For more information on the banquet, go to

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First published on January 31, 2010 at 12:00 am

Dapper Dan History

Steelers: Saturday is judgement day for Dermontti Dawson

Voting him in should be a snap

Sunday, January 31, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Chuck Noll, an old guard in his playing days with the Cleveland Browns, drafted one in 1988 in the second round from Kentucky. In the next round, he drafted a center from Notre Dame.

He and the Steelers believed they had just acquired two-thirds of their interior offensive line for the next decade. They were wrong, half wrong anyway. They found their center and missed badly on the other guy, but not the way they had planned.

Courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Dermontti Dawson

Chuck Lanza, the center from Notre Dame, washed out quickly. Dermontti Dawson, the guard from Kentucky, moved to center one year later and not only succeeded Hall of Famer Mike Webster to continue the team's grand tradition at the position, but many believe he exceeded Webster's play over the next decade.

Dawson, among the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 that will be chosen Saturday in Miami, set a new standard for centers throughout the National Football League. Before Dawson, the center position featured men of strength to take on defensive tackles and nose tackles, and smart players who could call the pass protections and adjust blocking schemes for the entire line.

Dawson did that and more. He revolutionized the position because he also had such athletic ability, quickness and speed that he often led sweeps around end, blocked men not just in front of him but to his right, and rarely needed a double-team to block a defensive lineman as most centers did.
There are some who will say he was the greatest center who ever played in the NFL.

"I don't know if he was the first center to snap the football and lead on the sweep, but I've never seen a center do it as good," said Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson. "The guy was a tremendous athlete, the strongest and probably most athletic offensive lineman I've ever seen."
Dick LeBeau has been in the game for 51 years and agrees with Woodson.

"He's the first guy I ever saw as a center pull and lead sweeps," said LeBeau, who coached against Dawson and with him. "And they would lead Dermontti on what we called the 'plus nose tackle,' the guy who sat outside his shoulder with the play going to that side. His blocking assignment was to cut that guy out of that onside gap, almost impossible. But Dermontti could do it because of his quickness. You just don't see that very often."

Dawson not only made seven Pro Bowls before hamstring injuries forced him into retirement after the 2000 season, he was chosen first-team All-Pro six times as the best center in the NFL. He earned the first-team nod at center on the NFL's Team of the Decade for the 1990s. He also was chosen as the NFL's offensive lineman of the year in 1993 and '96 by two organizations and he played in 170 consecutive games.

Those Steelers teams of the 1990s did not dominate the league running the ball just because they wanted to do it.

"To me he was the best athlete to ever play that position," said former Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "He was very powerful and explosive, just a rare combination of quickness, explosion, and he was a very dependable player. This guy hardly ever missed a game.

"He redefined the position. Looking schematically, when you start to design the center to pull after the snap, not many can do it. When you look at the numbers we had in the running game, everything we did worked from the inside out, and to have a guy like Dermontti and such stability, that was a staple of every offense we had."

Cowher might be considered biased on the topic of Dawson, Bill Belichick cannot.

"He was one of the best players that we have ever played against at that position," said Belichick, who played the Steelers twice annually when he coached the Browns in the 1990s. "He had exceptional quickness.

"I think that really is the measure of a center is his ability to play against powerful guys that are lined up over him and try to bull-rush the pocket and collapse it in the middle so that the quarterback can't step up. Dawson had great leverage and quickness with his hands and his feet where he did a great job of keeping that pocket clean for [Neil] O'Donnell and those guys who played behind him.

"The other thing that I think was a key to the Pittsburgh running game for years is when the nose tackle or the defensive tackle is offset to the play side; if you are running to the right and the nose tackle is lined up in the center-guard gap on the right, or sometimes even on the inside shoulder of the guard; that is a very hard block for the center to get. Defensively, you feel like they should not be able to cut him off from the center position, but Dawson made that block consistently."

That is precisely what LeBeau said. Belichick continued his praise of Dawson.

"Without him making those blocks inside, a lot of those runs for [Jerome] Bettis and [Barry] Foster would not have been able to get downhill like they did. As great as those Steelers' running games were over the last decade-and-a-half that I played against them, the effectiveness of the center position has had a lot to do with that. Dawson was outstanding; as well as his protection in the passing game."

Webster and Miami's Dwight Stephenson were considered two very different styles of centers. Webster had the strength, Stephenson the quickness. Both are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Stephenson played from 1980 to 1987, made six Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams and was the center on the all-1980s decade team.

"People referred to Dwight as the No. 1 guy but I think Dermontti was every bit his equal in all phases of the game," LeBeau said. "He played ahead of Dermontti, year-wise, but still I think Dermontti was the guy who popularized the pulling center. Dwight did a little bit but Dermontti did it a lot."

Tunch Ilkin, a two-time Pro Bowl right tackle, played on the offensive line with Webster and then with Dawson, and played throughout Stephenson's era.

"In my day, we always argued with guys around the league who was better, Webby or Dwight Stephenson," Ilkin said. "Everyone who picked Dwight picked him because of his athleticism. Those who pick Webby picked him because of his strength, toughness and power.

"If you put them both together, you've got Dermontti Dawson."

For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at Ed Bouchette can be reached at

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First published on January 31, 2010 at 12:00 am

Dermonti Dawson Hall Qualifications

Pirates to Penguins' owners a hot idea

Sunday, January 31, 2010
By Ron Cook
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There's nothing quite like the right newspaper headline to brighten a frigid winter morning.

Penguins owners offer to buy Pirates

Unfortunately, there's no one quite like Pirates owner Bob Nutting to make it feel like it's minus-15 outside.

"The team is not for sale."

Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle

Unless you have spent the weekend hibernating, you probably know the Post-Gazette reported Saturday that Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle made an offer to buy the Pirates during a meeting with Nutting four months ago. My initial reaction to the news probably was the same as yours: I wanted to go find a mountaintop and start screaming, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

If not Mark Cuban as the Pirates' savior, Lemieux and Burkle would do just fine, thank you very much.

Actually, anybody would be an upgrade over Nutting.

We can dream, can't we?

Then, I read Nutting's strong no-sale response in Saturday's story. It brought back horrible memories of something he told the Post-Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic in August after the Pirates had completed their annual summer salary dumps. Asked if he would consider selling the team, Nutting said, "Absolutely not. My family plans to own this franchise on a multi-generational level, and I look forward to my daughters being involved someday, as well."

Never have more chilling words been spoken by a Pittsburgh sports figure. An endless future of Nutting baseball? What did we do so wrong to deserve that?

So Lemieux and Burkle have no chance, right?

Not necessarily.

Ask yourself two questions: Has Lemieux ever failed at anything? Doesn't he always get what he wants?

You know the answers.

Yes and yes.

Suddenly, that dream no longer seems quite so farfetched.

Word is Lemieux and Burkle are serious about buying the Pirates. Altruism isn't their primary motivation. They aren't all that interested in saving a suffering city from Nutting's terrible brand of baseball, although that would be a wonderful benefit. They see a huge potential value in owning two sports franchises in town. From regional television to cross-marketing, the possibilities are endless.

On the surface, Nutting's no-sale stance would seem to rule out the Lemieux/Burkle Pirates. Clearly, he is making significant money from the team. He can't possibly be in baseball for the winning; the Pirates have lost for 17 consecutive seasons with no end to that streak in sight despite all the happy talk at PirateFest this weekend about making a "return to the playoffs" and competing for a "championship." Really, wouldn't it be nice if the club actually won, say, 70 games in a season before the organization had the nerve to try to make us think a championship was a possibility.
Nutting also can't enjoy being called one of the worst owners in all of sports, as so many of us consider him. I mean, it's not hard to imagine a "Sell the team!" chant breaking out at PirateFest today. Where's the fun for him there? He has to be in the business for the profits and nothing else.

But isn't it striking that Nutting at least agreed to visit the Penguins' offices last fall and listen to what Lemieux and Burkle had to say? I've always said he is a good businessman. If the price is right -- I mean really right -- maybe he would do a deal. Really.

That's where Burkle comes in.

His involvement is every bit as encouraging as Lemieux's.

Lemieux might be the iconic figure in the Penguins' team picture, but it's easy to forget that he wasn't such a hot owner before the NHL's lockout in the 2004-05 season evened the economic ice for its teams and before the Sidney Crosby Ping-Pong ball bounced the Penguins' way against all odds before the '05 NHL entry draft. There almost certainly would be no NHL team here without both developments and no beautiful, new arena on the way in the fall. Sometimes, it really is better to be lucky than good.

Burkle brings a different dynamic to the mix. He has the money to make a deal for the Pirates, then to do what Nutting can't or won't -- make the team successful on the field. He's a multi-billionaire. I repeat: That's billionaire with a capital B. Like Lemieux, he's almost always successful. And like Lemieux, he almost always gets what he wants.

I gotta tell you, this thing has me excited.

It's another frigid winter morning out there today, but I'm imagining sunny, 75-degree days just ahead.

Ron Cook:

Penguins Plus, a blog by Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson, is featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

First published on January 31, 2010 at 12:00 am

Linkage to the Post-Gazette's coverage:

> Analysis: What will be the next step, if any?

> Reaction: Chuck Finder gets responses about this at PirateFest, including Frank Coonelly's address to the crowd on the topic and some feedback from fans in attendance.

> Video: Fans at PirateFest talk about it.

> Opinion: Columnist Ron Cook writes, 'We can dream, can't we?'

> Opinion: Blogger Bob Smizik predicts that the pressure on Bob Nutting to sell 'will increase tenfold.'

> Penguins: Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik endorse the idea of their bosses buying the Pirates.

> Poll result: An overwhelming result in favor of selling.

> Hot Stove: Will the Pirates' defense stay at No. 1? John Russell sounds optimistic, but the statistics might spell a different story. Also in here for those who missed Chuck's blog item yesterday, Neal Huntington had some rather blunt remarks about the Pirates not ranking well-known prospect Bryce Harper in their top 10 for the 2010 draft.

Today's rematch won't heal Red Wings' Stanley Cup wound

Posted: Jan. 31, 2010

To this day, Dan Cleary has to tried to let go of what happened the last time the Red Wings met today's opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, because it resulted in the Wings being dethroned as Stanley Cup champions.

That was nearly eight months ago, and whatever happens today at Mellon Arena on national television, it won't change who owns the Cup. For the Wings, however, it is a significant game because they need points, and getting a pair from the defending champions would be a confidence booster.

"I think it's up to us to show something, especially the way things have gone lately with us not having played up to our potential," veteran forward Kirk Maltby said. "Any time we've won a championship, it's always been that you measure yourself against the team that won the Cup last year."

Detroit's Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen, Kris Draper and captain Nicklas Lidstrom wait to shake hands with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the Penguins defeated the Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last June. (JULIAN H. GONZALEZ / DFP)

The Wings won the Cup in 2008 when they beat Pittsburgh in six games. A year later, they came so close, leading 2-0 and 3-2 in the series, only to lose Game 7 at home.

"I felt it pretty hard right away," Cleary said, "and still do. When I'm just sitting alone thinking, I think about it a lot and I keep telling myself to try to get it out of my mind. But it's something I'll never forget."

Stanley hero Talbot hobbled by injuries

Maxime Talbot is struggling -- but what good does that do the Red Wings now?

The Game 7 Penguins hero from last year's Stanley Cup finals has had shoulder surgery and groin problems and hasn't made much of an impact at all this season, with one goal in 28 games. But he'll always be the guy who scored twice June 12 at Joe Louis Arena, doing the seemingly inconceivable in rallying the Penguins to the Stanley Cup championship after the Wings had taken a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

It was an ending that first stunned and then stung.

"It didn't hurt as much at first as it did as time passed, when you really realized how close we were," said Chris Osgood, who finished the 23-game playoff run with a 2.01 goals-against average. "We were up 2-0 and 3-2. If you were to tell me again we'd be up in that series, I'd still say we're going to win. When we didn't ...

"I think the initial reaction right afterwards was that we'd played real hard and that we had a lot of injuries; that we'd given it all we had. Then time passed and it was more of a squandered opportunity. ... You play 82 games and then we fought so hard in the playoffs to get to that point, and to not finish it off -- it hurts now more than it did then. It was 0-0 after one period. We were 40 minutes away from repeating."

The Wings did have significant injuries last spring, ranging from Nicklas Lidstrom requiring emergency surgery after getting speared in the groin to Brian Rafalski suffering a herniated disk to Kris Draper dealing with torn cartilage after taking a stick to the throat to Pavel Datsyuk missing seven games with a charley horse to Dan Cleary playing through a significant groin injury.

"Guys weren't 100% and maybe that caught up with us," Brad Stuart said. "No point in analyzing it to death. A lot of it comes down to breaks and the year before we seemed to get all the breaks and last year, we had a lot of them go against us. We had some pretty significant injuries, and not just to third-and-fourth line players, and even when guys did come back, they were still a little bit banged up.

"Losing was very disappointing at the time, but we all had a long summer to think about it and I think at some point you just have to move on."

Today the Wings have bigger concerns: They need points, they need to string together victories; they need to develop a swagger. The Penguins are going through their own issues -- they're in the mid-bottom in the NHL in team defense, their power play is in the bottom five, and they're in a tight battle with New Jersey for the division lead -- which is why today figures to be a high-spirited game with a focus on the present.

"For us, it's more of a game that we need to measure ourselves and look at ourselves in the mirror and make sure we come ready to play," Kirk Maltby said. "As far as history, I personally won't be thinking of that little slash Sidney Crosby gave me at the end of Game 1 or 2, whatever it was."

There was that slash, and there was eventual Conn Smythe winner Evgeni Malkin grabbing Henrik Zetterberg from behind in the dying seconds of Game 2, goading him into a fight, and then escaping suspension. While the individual battles of a year ago may be brushed aside, having gone at each other for two straight springs will stoke today's event.

"Obviously the rivalry has been built," Dan Cleary said. "For us, we're battling for our lives and each game is critical, but this game is on NBC and so I'm sure it's going to be amped up. I look forward to playing it, that's for sure."

Cleary is one of many Wings who still rue what general manager Ken Holland last June called "a giant, wasted opportunity." For Cleary, the images flash when he's by himself, and don't stop even when he tries to force them from his mind. For Maltby, the memories intrude when he's catching up on the world of hockey.

"I have the NHL network at home and they show commercials and it stings a lot when you know what could have been," Maltby said. "People say, well, you've won four Cups -- but it doesn't make you feel any better. When you see Crosby lift the Cup on TV and you see the background and it's Joe Louis Arena, and you think about what could have been ... it's still tough to swallow."

Contact HELENE ST. JAMES: 313-222-2295 or

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lemieux, Penguins co-owner offer to buy Pirates

Pirates downplay recent meeting; Nutting repeats: 'Team not for sale'

Saturday, January 30, 2010
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Mario Lemieux, left, and Ron Burkle ride together in the Stanley Cup parade last June.

Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, co-owners of the Penguins, recently made an unsolicited offer to buy the Pirates in a face-to-face meeting with that team's owner, Bob Nutting, but the offer did not receive a response.

Sources on the Penguins' side last night described the offer made by Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Burkle as "very serious," without divulging a dollar figure, and said they remain interested in following up.

The Pirates characterized the matter far differently.

Mr. Nutting, the only person in the meeting to comment on it, was adamant that no serious discussion about a sale had taken place. And he firmly reiterated that the Pirates are not for sale.

"Honestly, I'm not sure there's a situation to describe," Mr. Nutting said last night when asked about the meeting. "I like Ron. He's an extremely competent businessman and deal-maker, and we've talked about a wide range of topics. But I think the simplest way to say this is that there never has been a substantive or formal offer for the team. The team is not for sale."

Mr. Nutting was asked if the Pirates ever have been for sale, since he took control of ownership in January 2007.

"The team has not been for sale and is not for sale," he replied. "I'm excited about where we are. We've made some tough decisions, made a lot of progress and, frankly, we're just getting started with where we're headed. A sale is simply not an option that's on our table."

Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Burkle could not be reached.

The Penguins, through a spokesman, declined comment.

"We don't discuss private business matters," vice president of communications Tom McMillan said.

Because the teams' stances on the meeting vary -- greatly in some aspects -- this is a story with two distinct sides.

According to sources on the Penguins side, the meeting happened four months ago at the Penguins' front-office headquarters in Chatham Center, Uptown. Mr. Lemieux, Mr. Burkle and Mr. Nutting were present, and the intent of the meeting was for the Penguins owners to offer to buy the Pirates. Mr. Burkle made a financial offer.

According to the Pirates, the purpose of the meeting was about another matter, and no serious discussion about an offer or sale took place.

The reasons Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Burkle would want to buy the Pirates will not be clear until they speak to that, though that is not expected soon, if at all.

One possibility, according to a source, is that a joint ownership of the Penguins and Pirates could create a business "synergy" that would allow one to pick up the other in tough times, and vice versa. It would help, the source added, that the NHL and MLB seasons have little overlap and that the teams currently have the same local television rights-holder in FSN Pittsburgh.

Major professional sports leagues once frowned on having their franchise owners venture into other leagues, but it has become more common in the past two decades. In this case, between the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, there would be no issue other than that all potential new owners must be approved in a vote by fellow owners.

The city's hockey and baseball teams have been at polar opposites in recent years.

The Penguins are fresh off a Stanley Cup championship, have two of their sport's brightest stars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have sold out Mellon Arena for 144 consecutive games and are about to move into the new Consol Energy Center.

The Pirates are fresh off a 17th consecutive losing season, had an average attendance last year of a little more than half the capacity of PNC Park, and will enter 2010 with a promising core of young players but a $35.6 million payroll that could be the lowest in the majors.

Forbes magazine estimated the Pirates' value last year at $288 million, with only the Florida Marlins below them. The Pirates have acknowledged being profitable the past six years, and have one of the most lauded stadiums in sports in 9-year-old PNC Park.

Mr. Lemieux, among the most accomplished and beloved athletes in the city's history, has had one previous venture into baseball: That came as minority owner of the Pirates' Class AA affiliate in Altoona when Pittsburgh attorney and friend Chuck Greenberg was the owner there earlier in the decade.

Mr. Burkle, the California grocery magnate whose net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine at $3.5 billion in 2008, broke into sports by joining Mr. Lemieux as co-owner of the Penguins with a $20 million investment in 1999. He also had expressed interest in baseball's Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs when those franchises were for sale in recent years.

Mr. Greenberg and a group of investors last week reached agreement to buy baseball's Texas Rangers at a price of more than $500 million.

Mr. Greenberg previously had expressed a strong desire to buy the Pirates, his favorite team beginning with childhood, but his interest -- which was not believed to have reached the offer phase -- was rejected because, as he was told, the Pirates were not for sale. Mr. Greenberg was not involved in the offer made by Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Burkle.

Mr. Nutting has bought out several minority owners in recent years and now has a dominant stake, in the range of three-quarters.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at

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First published on January 30, 2010 at 1:00 am

NT Hampton doesn't want the franchise tag

Saturday, January 30, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Steelers want Casey Hampton, an unrestricted free agent, to return to the team. The Pro Bowl nose tackle wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner passes under pressure by Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton during the second quarter of the NFL's Super Bowl XLIII football game in Tampa, Florida, February 1, 2009. (Reuters)

How the two sides arrive at that common ground is where it gets a little complicated and potentially messy.

Hampton said Friday "it will be a problem" if the Steelers use a franchise tag and offer him a one-year contract instead of signing the accomplished veteran to a multi-year deal.

"You say we're family, and you'll take care of me. All I've done for this organization, and I feel like that's a slap in my face if you franchise me," Hampton told the Tribune-Review following a Pro Bowl practice at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. "That's not right. You don't do business like that. I want to be treated fair, and I think franchising me is not fair."

A franchise tag would essentially prevent Hampton from hitting the open market when the free agent signing period begins March 5.

Hampton didn't elaborate when asked if he would skip offseason practices — most of which are voluntary — or hold out of training camp should the Steelers use a franchise tag on him.

"It will be an issue," he said. "I told (the Steelers) that."

If the Steelers tag the 32-year-old Hampton, they have to offer him a one-year contract that's the average of the top five salaries made by defensive linemen in 2009. That figure will be released next week by the NFL Players' Association.

Hampton, who signed a five-year contract with the Steelers in 2005, made just more than $4 million last season.

The Steelers used a franchise tag on offensive tackle Max Starks last February to extend their negotiating period with him. They signed Starks to a four-year contract in June.

Hampton said he doesn't want the Steelers to take the same approach with him.

If the two sides can't reach an agreement on a long-term contract before early March, Hampton said, the organization should let the player known as "Big Snack" shop his services elsewhere.

"I believe they're going to try to get something done. But at the end of the day, if the two sides don't come to terms, let me see what's out there," said Hampton, a five-time Pro Bowler. "Don't hold me back because you didn't want to sign me before the (2009) season. It's your time to make it right. That's how I see it."

The Steelers declined comment yesterday, citing their policy of not talking about contract negotiations.

The Steelers traditionally don't sign players in their 30s to long-term deals, though they have made exceptions in recent years with linebackers James Harrison and James Farrior.

The organization is in a delicate situation with Hampton. His backup, Chris Hoke, is less than a year younger than Hampton, and finding a capable replacement for the 6-foot-1, 325-pounder in this year's draft is not exactly a sound contingency plan.

"Everybody wants one, but there is just not a lot to go around," ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay said of nose tackles. "That's the one spot that's so hard to find a guy that's big and is a good football player."

Hampton has been both since the Steelers took him with the 19th overall pick of the 2001 draft.

The former Texas star has been a vital part of their 3-4 defense because of his ability to occupy multiple blockers and stand his ground at the line of scrimmage.

Hampton is coming off one of his better seasons — he had 42 tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks in 2009 — and he said he has plenty of good years left provided he stays healthy.

Nose tackle is a critical if unsung position in the base defense the Steelers play. Enhancing Hampton's value is the trend that has seen more teams switch to the 3-4 alignment that the Steelers use.

"He's definitely one of the top nose tackles in this league," said Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who also will play Sunday in the Pro Bowl. "I watch him, and I learn from him. A guy that size you don't expect him to move the way he does."

Hampton said he isn't in a hurry to leave the Steelers. But, he added, it comes down to the Steelers showing him the same commitment he has given them.

"I love the organization. I love the owners. I love the coaches. But this is all about being fair and doing what's right, and I'm big on that," Hampton said. "I want to be in Pittsburgh. There's no question about that.

"Can we make it right? That's what it's going to boil down to."

Note: The Steelers hired Jerry Olsavsky yesterday to be their defensive quality control coach. Olsavsky fills the spot on Mike Tomlin's staff left by Lou Spanos' departure. Spanos recently became the Washington Redskins' linebackers coach. Olsavsky played linebacker for the Steelers from 1989-1997. A former Pitt star, Olsavsky coached at Youngstown State last season.

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Warner brings end to stirring 12-year career
Steelers' Hampton doesn't want franchise tag

PirateFest: A moved Mazeroski sees statue model

Huntington, Coonelly set high goals for players in 2010, beyond

Saturday, January 30, 2010
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bill Mazeroski had to pause three times during a three-minute speech, but he made it.

His voice trembling, standing at the podium before about 75 team officials, reporters and players at the Pirates' annual media luncheon yesterday, he spoke in characteristically humble tones just before the unveiling of the statue design that soon will be erected in his honor.

Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette

Bill Mazeroski looks at a miniature version of a statue of himself which will be outside PNC Park. Plans for the statue were officially revealed during a press conference Friday. The statue will commemorate the Hall of Famer's home run that won the World Series 50 years ago.

"I hit one home run," he said. "I get all the credit and don't deserve it. You get in the Hall of Fame. You get a street named after you. Holy hell, how can you get a better life than that?"

The room burst into laughter and applause.

"Now, I get a statue. I don't know what to say after that. Just, thanks."

Mazeroski and Bob Nutting, the Pirates' owner, then unveiled the 14-inch model, to more applause.

The statue, expected to be 12 feet tall and made from bronze, will be created by Pittsburgh sculptor Susan Wagner, who also did the Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell statues. Her other works include the Pittsburgh Police memorial on the North Shore and a Jackie Robinson memorial in New Jersey.

It will be unveiled Sept. 5 before a game against the Washington Nationals.

As reported earlier in the week, the pose for the statue will be of Mazeroski rounding second base after the home run, culled from a photograph by the Post-Gazette's James G. Klingensmith. And it will be located at the riverfront edge of Mazeroski Way, the short street on the side of PNC Park facing Heinz Field. The sidewalk will be chiseled to simulate infield dirt, and authentic bricks from Forbes Field will provide a backdrop.

"Bill's story is so inspirational, not only for his Hall of Fame career but also for the way he has continued to represent himself and the Pirates off it," Nutting said. "I'm thrilled that, soon, our fans will have a special place outside PNC Park to remember and share this story."

Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette

The miniature version of a statue of Bill Mazeroski that will be outside PNC Park.

GM defends payroll use

General manager Neal Huntington, in his speech to the media, said that "a lot has been made of payroll," and he made a case for why it should not be an issue.

The Pirates' payroll projects to $35.6 million for the coming season, which would be the lowest in Major League Baseball. But Nutting said last weekend that Huntington had "lots" of additional money he could have spent and did not.

"If we wanted to spend money for the sake of spending money, we could have spent it. And there was more money left to spend," Huntington said. "But, as we looked at the dollars being allocated to other major league players as free agents vs. what we had internally, we decided it was a better use of our resources to give those at-bats and innings to players who are going to be here for multiple years. The payroll isn't the driving force. The driving force is getting these players better and finding out who is going to be part of the turnaround."

This, too, from Huntington: "The 2010 Pirates, on paper, as you look at them, it's easy to dismiss. It's easy to say it's just another year. We're not doing that. You will never hear me say we're going to win in 2012 or 2013. To me, that basically means that we're not trying to win tonight's game. We're going to have given our team a chance to win every game every night. And by the time we look up in September, it's going to have been a fun year."

Players hear the call

Team president Frank Coonelly spoke of competing for a "championship" and a "return to the playoffs," likening the current team to those that led up to the Pirates' 1960 success.

And it appeared to resonate with the players.

"I believe in what we have," center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "We have a lot of depth now. Now, we have guys coming up through the minors. When I was coming through the system, we didn't have that. It makes you feel good, actually. It's great to talk about playoffs. I love it."

"Every guy who steps out here, that's what he's trying to do," left fielder Lastings Milledge said. "We're not out here to win 15, 20 more games than last year. We want to put ourselves in the position for the playoffs."

Three players added

Three more non-roster players were invited to spring training, all of the minor league variety: Infielders Brian Friday and Doug Bernier, and catcher Hector Gimenez.

Friday, 24, is the lone prospect of the group. He batted .265 with seven home runs for Class AA Altoona last season.

The non-roster total is 25.

Pittsburgh Pirates

An illustration displaying the location of the Bill Mazeroski statue at PNC Park.

Tickets on sale

Individual tickets for all games, including the April 5 opener, go on sale at 10 a.m. today. They will be on sale at PirateFest, as well as the usual outlets, including the PNC Park box office.

Dejan Kovacevic: Find more at PBC Blog.

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First published on January 30, 2010 at 12:00 am

Mazeroski's statue is unveiled at PNC Park

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski is known for many things, including his humility, class, distaste for public speaking and, of course, hitting the home run that won the World Series for the Pirates in 1960.

All those were on display Friday when the Pirates unveiled a model of the statue in Mazeroski's likeness to be erected outside PNC Park this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that championship.

Pirates Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski stands with a miniature likeness of the statue that will be erected outside PNC Park after the replica was unveiled Friday during the team's annual hot stove event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The statue honors Maz's 1960 World Series home run against the New York Yankees.

Christopher Horner Tribune-Review

"It's amazing," Mazeroski said. "You don't ever expect to have a statue put up of you in a ballpark. Gee, I mean, that's something special. I don't know if I deserve it or not, but I'm going to be very happy with it."

The statue captures Mazeroski's image after he rounded second base, right arm holding his cap high, left arm outstretched, right leg bent back in mid-stride, left leg planting on the ground. When finished, it will sit at the end of the cul-de-sac on Mazeroski Way, near the right-field entrance to the park. Behind it will sit part of the wall from Forbes Field bearing the No. 406, over which he hit the legendary home run, and the concrete around the statue will model the infield dirt.

Susan Wagner, who designed the Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell statues outside PNC Park, is the sculptress. The statue will be revealed Sept. 5 prior to the game against the Washington Nationals.

"We debated over the pose, but we decided to capture that unbelievable moment that has inspired our city and region to dream about what can be done," Pirates owner Bob Nutting said.

Mazeroski said he doesn't think about the home run every day, but someone does bring it up every day.

Not that he minds.

"I don't get tired of talking about it, I know that," said Mazeroski, who welcomed a third grandchild Thursday. "All I could think (rounding the bases) was, 'We beat the Yankees! We beat the Yankees!' because I was sitting on the bench after they tied it up wondering what in the world happened. All we needed was three outs and we would be world champs, and here they come and tie it up.

"Then someone yelled, 'Maz, you're up!' "

As with the other statues, fans will be able to donate to the fund. But instead of getting their names on a brick, donors will get their names engraved on cast aluminum ivy leaves that will be installed on the Forbes Field backdrop. Small leafs are available for $150, large leafs for $500 and commemorative certificates will be issued to fans donating $25. There will be eight Gold Gloves incorporated into the backdrop that can also be engraved.

Fans can place orders at PirateFest, by calling 1-877-MAZ-1960 or on-line at

More Pirates headlines

Bucs GM: Frustrated times 'a million' by Sano deal
All-Star catcher Mauer waiting for deal
Mazeroski headlines PirateFest
Baseball players pledge support to Haiti
Maz to get statue outside PNC
Pirates' caravan makes stop in Uniontown
Major League Baseball won't purge 'tainted' stats

Friday, January 29, 2010

Steelers Free Agent Decisions: Jeff Reed

Re-signing Reed top priority

Friday, January 29, 2010
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There aren't many certainties for the Steelers when it comes to deciding what to do with some of their top unrestricted free agents. It remains unclear if they will use a franchise tag on five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton, and they will be in no hurry to re-sign running back Willie Parker or cornerback Deshea Townsend, even though they would take both players back at a reduced rate if they don't sign with another team.

Jeff Reed kicks a 38-yard fourth-quarter field goal against the Baltimore Ravens during an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009. The Steelers won 23-20. (AP)

But one thing is certain: Their top priority before free agency begins March 5 is to sign kicker Jeff Reed to a new contract. They intend to accomplish that before doing anything else, and that is fine by Reed, who has maintained all along his desire to remain with the Steelers.

Reed said that he has met with "the most important people in the organization" -- president Art Rooney II, director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin -- "and they all said they definitely want me back. They want me to retire a Steeler. Sounds like a good plan to me."

He has been one of the National Football League's most accurate and dependable kickers since his rookie season in 2002, despite kicking outdoors in the Northeast. His career field goal percentage of 83.26 percent (189 of 227) -- seventh among all active kickers -- ranks ninth in NFL history among kickers with 100 or more field goals.

In a season in which the NFL's field-goal percentage dropped from 84.5 in 2008 to 81.3, Reed's conversion percent of 87.1 (27 of 31) was second only to San Diego's Nate Kaeding (91.4) among kickers with 30 or more attempts. And that after a rare bad performance in Week 2 in Chicago in which Reed missed attempts of 38 and 43 yards in the fourth quarter.

After that game, he never missed again from inside 50 yards, converting all 24 attempts. In fact, his only misses after the Chicago loss were from 52 and 53 yards, the latter on a cold December day at Heinz Field.

Since 2007, Reed has converted 88.2 percent of his attempts (75 of 85) -- the same success rate as Kaeding (83 of 94), the percentage leader in league history, in that time.

But Reed's greatest attribute might be his ability to deliver when it matters most -- a quality that was underscored in the past couple weeks when kickers such as Kaeding, Cincinnati's Shayne Graham and Arizona's Neil Rackers missed field-goal attempts at critical junctures of playoff games. Reed has never missed a field goal in the postseason (16 of 16) and is 22 of 25 in the final two minutes or in overtime of a regular-season game.

"The last three years, if you look at what I've done, I'm very proud of that," Reed said Thursday from Charlotte, N.C., where he is visiting his family. "I've never been to the Pro Bowl. I don't necessarily like it when I'm not mentioned among the best kickers in the league."

Conceivably, the Steelers could place a franchise or transition tag on Reed and keep him for one more season. But a franchise tag for kickers/punters before the 2009 season (average of top five salaries) was $2,483,000. A transition tag for kickers/punters (average of top 10 salaries) was $2,264,000.

Reed's 2009 salary was $1,375,000, though he counted $1,973,334 against the salary cap. A year earlier, his cap value of $1,958,333 ranked ninth among NFL kickers.

"I'm very loyal to the Steelers," Reed said. "No matter what has happened in the past, the organization has treated me very respectfully and made me feel like it's home."

Gerry Dulac:

Staal talented, tough, lucky kid

Friday, January 29, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Penguins center Jordan Staal was in no mood to celebrate an impressive career milestone. Not on a night when his team gave a lifeless effort in a 4-1 home loss to the Ottawa Senators. Not after he went a fifth consecutive game without a point and an 11th consecutive game without a goal.

But that milestone is worth celebrating, nonetheless.

Staal became the youngest player in NHL history to play his 300th game.

It seems as if the kid has been around forever, but he was just 21 years and 140 days old as of Thursday night when they dropped the puck at Mellon Arena.


That's my word, not Staal's. His reaction was typically understated after the game. He barely blinked when an equipment staffer gave him a game puck as a souvenir with the date and opponent written on it in white ink.

"I'm glad they left off the score," Staal said dryly.

Jordan Staal passes the puck after falling during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010. The Senators won 4-1. (AP)

Sure, it would have been sweeter if the Penguins had won. But they were outworked all night by the Senators, who easily could be their first-round playoff opponent. It's nice to think the Penguins will play with a little more passion if the teams meet again in April. They couldn't solve Senators goaltender Brian Elliott after an Evgeni Malkin goal just 94 seconds into the game. And their goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, had a tough night, allowing a couple of soft goals.

Still, 300 games are 300 games.

And to be just 21?

It's worth repeating:


"I'm proud of it," Staal said quietly. "I want to play in a lot more."

You have to be phenomenally talented, tough as they come and awfully lucky to get to 300 games so quickly. Staal is all three.

The talent showed from the start when Staal made the Penguins to open the 2006-07 season, only a few weeks past his 18th birthday. He blew away his coaches and teammates with his instincts and knowledge of the game. He scored 29 goals that rookie season, but that's not what separated him from so many other players in the league. He was so good and so sound defensively and as a penalty killer. He was responsible, which is a wonderful word to describe a young player.

Still is.

"He's a player who has continued to grow," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, perking up just a bit at the mention of Staal's name after this lame performance by his team. "He's skating better than ever. He's playing more physical than ever ...

"To have 300 games under his belt already? There's a long road ahead for that kid. A lot of good hockey."

So much, the Penguins believe, that they gave Staal a four-year, $16 million contract a year ago. Somehow appropriately, he wasn't old enough to buy a beer to celebrate when he signed it.

Now that blows me away.

Staal's toughness has been just as evident as his skills. He has missed just one game -- one out of 350, counting playoff games -- during his career. He was a healthy scratch in December of his rookie season, which puts his regular-season consecutive games streak at 275.

That's a big number that sports' ultimate ironman -- Cal Ripken Jr. -- surely can appreciate.

It's not as if Staal didn't have opportunities to take a night off. Early this season -- "I don't remember the game," he said -- he left the ice briefly after a skate ripped open a gash on his right thigh that required 40 stitches to close. Of course, he returned to the game. He did the same thing after his nose was broken when the Penguins played New Jersey Dec. 21.

"If you can play, you play," Staal said, shrugging.

Luck comes into it because Staal has not had a more serious injury. He has not broken anything that kept him from pulling on his No. 11 sweater. There have been a few times he felt sicker than a dog, but he played.

Staal has been lucky in another sense as well. He joined an organization on the rise. In his first three seasons in the NHL, the Penguins made the playoffs the first year, went to the Stanley Cup final the second and won the darn thing the third. He still wasn't old enough to buy a legal drink when they etched his name on the precious chalice. He didn't turn 21 until Sept. 10.

"I've been really fortunate," Staal said. "Someone definitely is watching me up there."

Many nights, better than this one, figure to be ahead for Staal. He was a rare minus-2 against the Senators but still leads the Penguins for the season with a plus-12. The goal-scoring slump appears to be wearing on him just a bit, but that will pass. His 13 goals are fourth on the Penguins behind Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Bill Guerin.

Clearly, the kid is too talented, too tough and too lucky for the slump to last much longer.

Ron Cook:
First published on January 29, 2010 at 12:00 am

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Uncapped year impacts status of Steelers' Colon

Thursday, January 28, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Willie Colon, left, has been the Steelers' starting right tackle for three seasons.

Willie Colon has not complained, his agent has not complained, and the Steelers have said nothing to him or his agent about it, but they have their starting right tackle over a unique barrel.

Under usual circumstances, Colon would become an unrestricted free agent March 5, four years after he signed his first contract as a fourth-round draft choice. As a three-year starter at right tackle, about to turn 27 years old and acclaimed by his own coaches to be among the best tackles in the NFL, Colon could hit the jackpot.

The average compensation of the top five offensive linemen in the NFL one year ago was $8,451,000; the average of the top 10 was $7,744,000.

Fourth-round draft choices do not make much money on their first contract, relatively speaking, of course. Colon averaged $454,500 annually for those three years. He then became a restricted free agent last year, and the Steelers tendered him a contract of about $2.2 million to keep him. That was a nice jump in pay for Colon, but nothing like what he could experience this year as an unrestricted free agent.

Instead, he will remain a restricted free agent because the rules will change as, almost everyone in the business expects, the NFL heads into the unfamiliar waters of an uncapped year in 2010. The rule that impacts Colon and more than 200 other players changes the number years of service to become unrestricted from four to six.

Colon, then, would become a restricted free agent again March 5. If no contract is negotiated this year and the Steelers tender him a deal under the restricted free agent rules, he again would be restricted in 2011 if no collective bargaining agreement is negotiated a year from now.

Some refer to these players as "notch babies." Tight end Heath Miller also would have been in that spot, but he signed a long-term contract last summer.

Colon would make around $2.5 million this year if the Steelers tender him a contract. While that is good money, it cannot compare to what, for example, left tackle Max Starks received from the Steelers. They signed Starks to a four-year, $26.3 million contract in June. That averages to about $6.6 million per year.

Assuming Colon (who took Starks' starting job in 2006 and kept it) could get the same if he were free, he would lose nearly $8 million over the next two seasons under the new rules that keep him a restricted free agent.

No one from the Steelers approached Colon's agent, Joe Linta, about a long-term deal last year, and the Steelers have said nothing to him yet about it since the season ended.

"The Steelers at this point have chosen not to pursue Willie on a long-term contract," Linta said. "Willie would love to stay and hopes he fits in their plans but to this point that hasn't occurred."

Restricted free agents are permitted to shop themselves to other teams and to sign a contract with someone else. His current team is permitted to match any offer and keep him. However, if the team decides not to match, it receives compensation in return. The salary depends on which tender the team issues the player. If another team signed Colon last year and the Steelers did not match, they would have received a first-round draft pick in return. They can put a higher tender on him that would bring draft picks in the first and third rounds.

Good offensive tackles are hard to find, and perhaps there might be a team willing to give up a first-round draft pick to sign Colon, particularly if it is a low pick in the round. The only pure tackle on the team besides Starks and Colon is Tony Hills, a fourth-round draft choice in 2008 who has not played a snap in two seasons. Undrafted rookie Ramon Foster, who played tackle at the University of Tennessee, was converted to guard by the Steelers.

"The Steelers are watching the same films I am and it's pretty obvious he's in the top three players at his position in the league," Linta said, "and they will make their decision accordingly.

"There is no animosity. They're playing by the rules. It's not like they're doing anything wrong, immoral or unethical. Willie is like, 'They're going to do what they're going to do. I'll just go out and play ball.' "

For more on the Steelers, read Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at Ed Bouchette:

Mazeroski on statue plan: 'Couldn't believe it'

Pose will be of home run gallop, location outside right-field gate

Thursday, January 28, 2010
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For all Bill Mazeroski's fame, having hit baseball's greatest home run and now about to be immortalized with a statue outside PNC Park, nothing has stripped away any semblance of his humble roots.

Especially the humble part.

James G. Klingensmith/Post-Gazette
This 1960 photo of Bill Mazeroski rounding second base after his famous home run will serve as the model for the new PNC Park statue.

"I couldn't believe it when I first heard about it," Mazeroski said of the statue yesterday in a phone interview with the Post-Gazette from Panama City, Fla. "Things like that... I don't know. I came out of Ohio, the back woods down there, had hardly nothin', and here I am getting a statue up in Pittsburgh. It's just something I can't comprehend. It probably won't sink in until I see it."

Mazeroski, the soft-spoken coal miner's son from Little Rush Run, Ohio, will attend the unveiling of a model of the statue Friday at the team's media luncheon to kick off PirateFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The model will be on display at PirateFest all weekend, and Mazeroski will sign autographs Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

More details about the statue emerged yesterday, as per multiple sources:

• The pose will be based on the indelible image of Mazeroski rounding second base -- arms fully extended to his sides, the right hand twirling the cap, running seemingly on air -- after his epic home run that beat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

• The tentative location will be the circular, riverfront edge of the now aptly named Mazeroski Way, just outside PNC Park's right-field entrance. Currently, there is a small overlook and bike rack there.

• Second base, which was Mazeroski's Gold Glove position, will be part of the display, just behind his figure.

• The circular sidewalk near the statue would be converted to an infield-looking appearance -- through chiseled and colored cement -- allowing fans the chance to imagine running the bases with Mazeroski.

• The sculpture will be complete at some point in the season's second half but probably not in time for the Pirates' 50th anniversary celebration of the 1960 title, June 18-19.

The Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 in the 1960 World Series but lost on Bill Mazeroski's one-out homer off Ralph Terry in the ninth inning of Game 7 at Forbes Field.(AP)

Mazeroski was told of the statue plans during a November alumni meeting, when team owner Bob Nutting and president Frank Coonelly called him into an office.

"I just said, 'Holy cow, this can't be happening,' " Mazeroski said of his reaction. "There have been so many great things happen to me, I don't know which one is the greatest."

There were no tears, though, which might surprise those who remember a deeply emotional Mazeroski having to cut short his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2001.

How might he react at seeing the statue?

"I don't know," he replied with a laugh. "For a guy who cries watching commercials on TV... "

Mazeroski stressed, as he always has, that his home run should not solely define that team. And he backed that sentiment this past weekend at the Pirates' annual fantasy camp in Bradenton, Fla., by taking polite exception to getting top billing for the event.

"They were billing it, 'Bill Mazeroski and the '60 Bucs.' It's not about that. It's about the '60 Bucs," Mazeroski said. "I was just part of it. I got one lucky hit. I get too much credit. It took a 25-man team to win it, and I was just a very, very small part of it."

On Saturday night, at the farewell dinner for the camp, Mazeroski surprised observers -- including 1960 teammates Bob Friend, Vernon Law, Bob Skinner, Bob Oldis and Joe Gibbon -- by briefly taking the podium to address that topic.

Kent Tekulve, the closer for the Pirates' last championship team in 1979, was the emcee.

"I was prepared to make a statement about the whole 1960 team, and Maz got up, unannounced and walked up to the podium, which is not at all like Maz," Tekulve said. "He said, 'Guys, just remember one thing: The 1960 Series wasn't all about Bill Mazeroski. I just happened to be the guy standing at the plate when it happened.' "

Mazeroski, 73, remains in excellent health. He hit a round of golf yesterday -- "I didn't do too bad, I guess" -- and once again will be a special instructor for the Pirates' current players at spring training.

He was asked, based on his view of the current situation, if Pittsburgh might ever see another baseball moment like the one he brought a half-century ago.

"In about four to five years, I'm looking forward to it," Mazeroski repled. "I think the people they have in there now are doing their jobs the right way. It's not going to be overnight, but I think we have a chance to become a winning club. Once you do that, anything can happen in the playoffs and World Series. I know that it sure would be fun in my lifetime to see that again."

NOTES -- Steven Jackson and Anthony Claggett, the relievers the Pirates designated for assignment last week to clear space on the 40-man roster, passed through waivers and were outrighted to Class AAA Indianapolis. ... They also were invited to spring training, raising the number of non-roster players to 22. There will not be many more such additions, if any.

Dejan Kovacevic:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Penguins star Malkin strides through slump

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

These words are not a warning to the NHL.

These words are not a response to critics.

These words are simply an expression of Penguins center Evgeni Malkin's feelings 47 games into a "bad" season in which he has scored 18 goals and recorded 53 points.

"Yeah, I'm back to being Geno," he said Monday night after single-handedly sucking the life out of Madison Square Garden midway through third period in the Penguins' 4-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin has provided the Penguins a boost over the last week.

Chaz Palla Tribune-Review

Those words might seem obvious given Malkin's five goals and 10 points in five games since a stretch of 22 contests over which he produced five goals and 18 points. In reality, production played only a minor role in his proclamation.

For Malkin, "back" is rising to the occasion and providing the Penguins' a potent performance on a shift when they need it most, or...

"Exactly what he did (Monday night)," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

"That's what he does," center Sidney Crosby said, regarding Malkin drawing a penalty and scoring on a power play not long after the Rangers took a 2-1 lead.

Rangers center Artem Anisimov had snapped a tie score with 10:45 remaining in regulation. Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar said the goal "felt like one of those deflating ones." Malkin held a different opinion.

"Maybe their players (would) relax," he said of his thoughts prior to stepping on the ice for the ensuing shift. "It (could be) a good chance for us."

Fifteen seconds later he had drawn a slashing penalty from Rangers winger Marian Gaborik, who spent only 16 seconds in the sin bin because Malkin ripped his 18th marker past goalie Henrik Lundqvist to pull the Penguins even, 2-2, and turn the "world's most famous arena" into the NHL's quietest at that moment.

A minute after that goal, forward Chris Conner pushed the Penguins in front. Less than nine minutes later, Malkin set up winger Pascal Dupuis' empty-net score that sealed the Penguins' seventh win in 11 games.

The night belonged to Conner, who scored twice after receiving a phone call Monday morning informing him of a promotion from the AHL. Malkin was happy to avoid a gathering of reporters while heading for the trainer's room as Conner held court in the Penguins dressing room.

About 45 minutes after the Penguins secured a seventh win in 11 games, Malkin emerged wearing a form-fitting charcoal suit with pinstripes. His hair was wet and matted to his head as he placed his autograph on the stick he used to score the goal.

The subject of his slump from Nov. 30-Jan. 14, raised by the Tribune-Review, was met with something not seen much from Malkin, at least publicly, over the past few months.

"I feel the same now," he said, holding a smile after laughing at the topic. "No, no; I'm lucky. This is a great team. I played bad, and the guys supported me. They helped me."

The unexpected brush of human-like production was baffling to Malkin, who last season won the NHL scoring title and was elected playoff MVP for scoring the most postseason points (36) since 1993. He has denied that recent local criticism hit hard, but teammates could sense Malkin was at a breaking point when the Penguins left for a five-game road trip earlier this month.

"When the puck is not going in and you lose, it's not always easy to take criticism," said Crosby, arguably the NHL's most scrutinized player and, like Malkin, possessing an $8.7 million individual salary-cap hit.

"That's the position he's in. That's the position some of us are in, but (Monday night) was (an example of) his game — and it shows how he can change games."

Neither Orpik nor Gonchar, two of Malkin's closest friends, felt Malkin was in danger of slipping into an abyss during his slide from the ranks of top-tier scorers. He said they, along with winger Ruslan Fedotenko, helped isolate a problem with his game — a sketchy skating stride.

"You could see it in his moves. He was not confident with them. He hesitated," Gonchar said. "Look at him now, and there is no hesitation. He isn't inside his head. He's just playing.

"That is how he can do what he did (Monday night)."

Orpik cited a Jan. 14 game at Edmonton, where Malkin recorded seven shots but no points, as the start of his turnaround.

"He's just been skating so much better since that game," Orpik said. "I don't know what it is, but it looks like he's got that extra jump he's used to having.

"He looks like he's back to his old self."

Added Malkin: "Yes, I'm back."


Center Evgeni Malkin has recorded multiple points in three of his past five games. With 16 multiple-point games, he is on pace for 26 in 75 games; Malkin missed seven games early in the season because of a right shoulder injury. A look at his multiple-point games from the last three seasons:

Season: Multiple-point games

2008-09: 32

2007-08: 28

2006-07: 23


Who does Nutting think he's kidding?

By Bob Smizik Jan 27 2010
Wednesday, 12:15 a.m.

Bob Nutting is not a man easily embarrassed. The owner of the Pirates make no apologies for operating what is one of the worst -- if not the worse -- professional sports franchise in this country. You’d never know from hearing Nutting speak that there’s anything wrong with the Pirates.

But as we all know there’s plenty wrong with the Pirates. The team has had 17 consecutive losing seasons and there looks to be no getting around No. 18 this summer.

Nutting believes he has a plan in place, and he does. That might not sound like much, but considering how the Pirates have operated in the past it is an improvement. Whether that plan will work remains to be seen.

In any evaluation of the Pirates' future three things must be considered:

* Almost all of the other 15 National League franchises also have a plan.

* With the possible exception of Washington, none of those franchises is starting from as far back as the Pirates.

* None of those franchises has an ownership group more reluctant to spend.

This is to say the hill the Pirates must climb back to respectability is steep, very steep. The path to championship contention is steeper still.

Which leads us to what amounts to the state of the franchise interview Nutting gave to Post-Gazette beat reporter Dejan Kovacevic and which appeared in the Monday editions of the paper (see interview below).

If Nutting ran the Cleveland Indians, I’d say the interview showed he speaks with a forked tongue. Since the runs the Pirates, I will resort to old-fashioned Pittsburghese: He’s fulla baloney.

You’d think after proclaiming last year, ``"We're not going to accept an inferior performance," and accepting just that, Nutting would be more careful with his words. He wasn’t. Like I said, he doesn’t embarrass easily.

In answering Kovacevic’s second question, which dealt with whether progress should be expected, Nutting said:

``Oh, absolutely. We are going to win more games than last year. We are going to see improvement on the field in Pittsburgh, in terms of wins and loses. We have to.

``I said last year that was my expectation and, midway through the season, we clearly weren't seeing that. And the team took decisive action, made change. That's part of why you have the broader pool from which the pieces will come for 2010 and moving forward.’’

That second paragraph simply is not true. The Pirates did not begin making trades when expectations weren’t being met. They began making trades when they were ahead of expectations. And they often traded players who were ahead of anyone’s expectations, most notably Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett.

Every time the Pirates made a trade, beginning with Nate McLouth to Atlanta in early June when they were four games under .500, they were ahead of the pace they set in 2008. They did not fall behind that pace until the final trade was made, at which point all the high-priced veterans were gone and the Pirates were stuck with a miserable talent level.

There were reasons the Pirates made those trades last year, and I don’t disagree with most of them. But they were not made because the team, as Nutting suggested, was playing below expectations.

Later Nutting was asked about what had to be the single most ridiculous comment of his tenure. After the Pirates finally signed No. 1 draft choice Pedro Alvarez in the summer of 2008, Nutting called team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington ``the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe in all of sports."

His answer was equally ridiculous:

``And I've never backed away from that comment.’’

Well, he should have. Coonelly and Huntington are not anywhere near the best management team in sports and Nutting makes himself look like a buffoon by standing by his original comment. There are other way to support your management team than lavishing them with overblown praise.

Nutting could have backed away from his original comment, maybe even by poking fun at himself. Then he could have reasserted his confidence in Connelly and Nutting without making them sound like Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein of the Boston Red Sox.

Next question:

``What's your view of the talent pool that could be in Pittsburgh at some point in 2010?’’

Answer: ``Clearly, we have more depth, more options. And what I'm thrilled about is that Neal has the time and opportunity to make good baseball decisions to be able to pull people up when it's appropriate to the player's development.’’

Balderdash. The Pirates are significantly weaker on the major-league level than they were at this time last year and they have less options at that level. The fact they have presented Jeff Clement with an opportunity to win the starting first base job in spring training speaks volumes to their lack of talent and clearly shows Huntington is not able ``to pull people up when it's appropriate to the player's development.''

Clement batted .224 for Indianapolis last season after he was traded to the Pirates from Seattle. In a major-league trial with the Mariners in 2008, he batted .227 with a .295 on-base percentage and a .360 slugging percentage. He hit five home runs in 203 at bats.

That wouldn’t even get an invitation to spring training on some teams, let alone the opportunity to win a starting job.

There’s were lots more of nutty Nutting comments but I’m going to end here. However, I reserve the right to critique the remainder of his interview at a later date.

Nutting: Pirates' payroll to rise as roster matures

Says $75M range of Brewers, Reds is 'where Pittsburgh needs to be'

Monday, January 25, 2010
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

SEVEN SPRINGS, Pa. -- A year ago, at the opening of the Pirates' Winter Caravan promotional tour here, the franchise's controlling owner, Bob Nutting, said of his expectations for 2009, "We're not going to accept an inferior performance," and he pledged accountability.

The team's record fell from 67-95 to 62-99, and it grew worse after several veteran-for-prospect trades in June and July. Management and coaching staff remained almost entirely untouched.

The Post-Gazette met with Nutting again yesterday at the Seven Springs resort he owns for another interview that covered that topic, as well as:

• Opening-day payroll, projected to drop to $35.6 million.

• Whether payroll will ever increase to the level of division and market peers in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, each now in the range of $75 million.

• Confidence in team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington, his hires in late 2007.

• The Pirates' failure to sign top Latin American prospect Miguel Angel Sano last summer.

• Whether the Pirates are at risk of being pushed to spend more by Major League Baseball and the players' union, as occurred last month with Florida.

Question: A good place to start would be with your expectations for the coming season, same question as last year.

Answer: Well, we're in a very different position than this time last year, but I'm enthusiastic about 2010.

If you look at the moves that were made, with talent coming in at every level, then you look at the impact that talent will have in Pittsburgh in 2010 and beyond, that's encouraging. From there, if you look at the veteran additions Frank and Neal made, it was very strategic and, I think, very effective. They brought in support where the young team was going to need some help.

Q: You almost have to view 2009 as a bottoming out, don't you?

You can't keep hovering around 62 or so wins and see that as progress, right?

A: Oh, absolutely. We are going to win more games than last year. We are going to see improvement on the field in Pittsburgh, in terms of wins and loses. We have to.

I said last year that was my expectation and, midway through the season, we clearly weren't seeing that. And the team took decisive action, made change. That's part of why you have the broader pool from which the pieces will come for 2010 and moving forward.

Q: Can we expect to see accountability beyond changing the roster?

A: I think, just as you saw accountability at the player level last year, ultimately, my job is very simple: It's to set the level of expectation to win games in Pittsburgh, period. And my tool to do that is to hold people accountable to reach this goal.

I think I've done that effectively so far, and I believe everyone in the organization understands that the expectation is high.

Q: You've expressed confidence in Frank and Neal, notably calling them "the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe in all of sports" a couple summers ago ...

A: And I've never backed away from that comment.

Q: That's what I wanted to ask.

A: I need to believe in and support them. If I ever don't believe in the team, we'll replace the team. We'll make changes. We've made changes along the way.

Pittsburgh needs to have extraordinarily capable leaders who are focused on the process and driving the team forward. That's what we need to compete, to win.

Q: When you see some of these prospects about to come up -- Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln -- what's your view of the talent pool that could be in Pittsburgh at some point in 2010?

A: Clearly, we have more depth, more options. And what I'm thrilled about is that Neal has the time and opportunity to make good baseball decisions to be able to pull people up when it's appropriate to the player's development.

Do we have enough talent?

Absolutely not.

We need another great draft. We've had two good ones, and we need to do it again. And again and again. With international signings, we need to keep our focus on that ball, as well. We need to continue to bring in talent at the bottom every way we possibly can, so those options are available in 2010 and, hopefully, those choices become more and more difficult every year.

Q: You mention international signings. Minnesota ended up signing Sano for a $3.15 million bonus, and the Pirates' final offer was $2.6 million. Did you authorize that the team could spend in the range of the Twins?

Or was your final offer it?

A: It [Sano's bonus with Minnesota] was comfortably within the range of what we could have paid.

I understand that the opening-day payroll figure can increase as the season goes along but, at the same time, it's probably going to end up down from the $48 million of last year.

What went into your thinking?

A: First of all, I think it's never going to be about the total dollars we spend as much as how effectively we put them to use.

Part of the reason for the payroll level is that we have young players, and it is normal, expected and natural that, as those players mature, those dollars are going to have to come up. That certainly is my expectation.

But I think we've shown good discipline in building this 2010 team, in that there is lots of flexibility that Neal still has. He's building the team that he thinks will perform best for the coming year but also can still succeed going forward.

Q: So, Neal can spend more than what we see right now?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Why not, some might say, just take some heat off yourself and have a $50 million-$55 million payroll?

A: Well, what I really believe is that we've put in place an orderly, systematic plan, and the last thing we can do is divert from that plan or change it, as I've seen done before in Pittsburgh and with other clubs. I believe that the decisions being made are giving the team the best opportunity to compete this year, as well as going forward. I don't want to do anything that handicaps that.

Look, some of the trades we've made ... would it have been easier not to do those?

Of course it would have.

But I really believe we're going in the right direction and that we're being driven by baseball decisions, not financial ones.

Q: So, your expectation remains that, if this group becomes competitive, you will be able to someday spend at the level of the Brewers and Reds?

A: I think that's expected. I think it's rational. I think it's where Pittsburgh needs to be.

And we're in that trajectory now. As you see our current core of players -- one I have faith in -- as they mature, the dollars are going to increase. If that needs to be supplemented, we need to have the flexibility to be able to do that.

Q: You can understand where the general public can look at the payroll with frustration?

A: Again, I understand the focus on that single number. I also strongly believe that is not the right indicator for organization performance or strength. You need to look at our commitments top to bottom, the foundation we've built.

Q: Do you have any expectation that what just happened with the Marlins could happen to the Pirates?

A: I really can't speak to the Marlins' situation, but what I can say is that, in Pittsburgh, I'm very comfortable that what we're doing is in the best interest of the team. We're using our revenue-sharing dollars appropriately, and we're building a program to improve on-field performance, which is the goal of revenue-sharing.

Q: So, you have no reason to think the Pirates are next in that regard?

A: Again, I can't speak to what the union might do, or the commissioner's office. But I'm comfortable that we're moving in an appropriate direction. We're using our dollars correctly, efficiently and well. And we're going to continue moving down that path.

Q: What would you consider a successful 2010?

A: Honestly, I won't be satisfied with any season until we win a championship. Incremental improvement might be encouraging at some level but, in terms of what's satisfactory ... I'll be pleased with a championship season.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at