Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pirates blew it with The Pittsburgh Kid

Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, 10:18 p.m.Updated 9 hours ago
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Second baseman Neil Walker delivers his game jersey to Pirates fan Michael Tulley of Hampton after defeating the Reds on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, at PNC Park.

Neil Walker showed up until he was shipped out. It's a Pittsburgh thing.

And Walker actually was a Pittsburgh kid. Like a lot of us, he grew up watching Pittsburgh being a great place to be from.

Not the place all Pittsburghers could be.

Businesses betraying Pittsburghers is nothing new. Wish the Pirates weren't one of those businesses, though.

A betrayal is the only way the Pirates' handling of Walker should be viewed by the Pittsburghers who faithfully supported the Pittsburgh Baseball Club's many lows and only recent highs.

Walker was Pittsburghers' Pirate.

To not recognize that — and to fail to capitalize on the long-term benefit of making The Pittsburgh Kid a Pirate King — shows a staggering lack of appreciation by Pirates owner Bob Nutting for what makes Pittsburgh great.

Pittsburghers make Pittsburgh great.

Walker is a Pittsburgher, so Nutting should have overruled general manager Neal Huntington and nixed the “true baseball move” the Pirates issued a news release about Wednesday afternoon.

Good luck to Jonathon Niese, a left-hander who the news released noted has notched more “quality starts” than all but six National League pitchers over the past four seasons.

Allowing three earned runs over six innings is a quality start. Those are nice and all, but ...

Hey, Pirates, how about a quality keep?

Walker wasn't just somebody who tugged at our parochial heart strings. He was somebody Pittsburghers could connect to better days that once seemed to only exist in the Pirates' past.

He went to games at Three Rivers Stadium. So did we.

But we weren't taught to play second base by Bill Mazeroski. Nor had Roberto Clemente told our dad to stay off his ill-fated flight on New Year's Eve in 1972.

Sure, some of us wore the No. 18, just like Andy Van Slyke.

Walker wore it the way Van Slyke did — for the Pirates.

Didn't see any of that mentioned in the news release.

Did see, though, Pirates president Frank Coonelly saying Walker “always represented his hometown team with pride and passion.”

He sure did.

How dare he expect at least one legitimate offer to keep living the only way he knew how until Wednesday.

With “pride.” With “passion.” Always, unapologetically, for the “Pirates.”

Those three words in quotes are painted on a lot of walls at PNC Park.

It's only paint. And paint can be removed.

That's what happened with the way the Walker situation was handled. He was forced to spend a last season pretending to smile while knowing a divorce loomed.

“We greatly appreciate Neil and all he has done for our club, on and off the field,” Coonelly said.

Had to say something.

Nutting should have said something a year ago this time, when the Pirates-Walker relationship could have been salvaged by the big boss. A year later, that relationship ended with a piece of paper that didn't include one word from the big boss.

Walker deserved better.

Any Pittsburgher would from the owner of Pittsburgh's oldest sports team.

Nutting is a good owner. He has given power to the right people. Coonelly is an underappreciated businessman.
Huntington is one of baseball's best architects.

The Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington power trio has transformed a moribund franchise into one that was on the verge of excellence only a couple of months ago.

But last week, the Pirates parted with Pedro Alvarez's power bat for a return of nothing. Walker went for a mid-rotation replacement for J.A. Happ and A.J. Burnett.

Is closer Mark Melancon sticking around past the weekend's PirateFest?

In early October, before one of his last home games for his hometown team, Walker and I mused about changes we anticipated coming soon to the Pirates' clubhouse. At one point, he looked to his right and me to my left, way down at the end where a certain somebody was sitting.

I requested that Walker take off his Pirates cap and put on his Pittsburgher hat before answering a question.

What happens with him?

“Can't lose that guy,” Walker said. “He's the best thing to happen here in — what? — a quarter century?

“They have to keep him at any cost. If they don't, they'll lose all of Pittsburgh.”

The Pirates blew it with The Pittsburgh Kid.

They better heed his parting words about Andrew McCutchen.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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