Just how bad has the 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates season gotten?
Perhaps ugly enough that a clubhouse scrap between relievers Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez Monday wasn’t met with shock or anger from most fans, but rather laughter and a sense of wonder on what could possibly happen next before the season ends in two weeks.
The details of the skirmish go something like this: Vazquez and Crick have been bickering all season and it came to a head when the Pirates’ closer didn’t particularly like the music Crick was playing in the clubhouse. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Vazquez punched Crick twice in the back of the head before the latter retaliated and broke Vazquez’s nose.
Crick, however, got the worst of the damage when it was revealed he required season-ending surgery on the index finger to his pitching hand.
Both players were fined and general manager Neal Huntington called the fight “unacceptable” and something “that will not be tolerated.”
What a mess.
I think just about every high school locker room in the area has been better behaved than the Pirates — professional athletes making millions of dollars — have been this summer.
There was the fight between Crick and bullpen coach Eucildes Rojas earlier in August that resulted in Rojas getting a three-game suspension as well as the two-game suspension to Keone Kela for a dust-up with the team’s performance coach.
Oh, and that’s just all the off-the-field stuff.
On the field, Clint Hurdle continues to make puzzling decisions as the team’s manager, the team’s best hitters have disappeared for long stretches of time, and the pitching staff has vastly underperformed.
There have also been those brawls with the Cincinnati Reds, issues with the team’s broadcasters and pitiful attendance numbers since the All-Star break.
It’s all been brewing under the surface amid another missed postseason trip for Pittsburgh, which has now failed to win a divisional title since 1992.
Since those three consecutive wild card berths from 2013-15, the Hurdle-Huntington led Pirates have gone a combined 299-331 since.
Mediocre at best.
But back to the issues in the clubhouse, which are certainly related to the frustration of another long summer of hopelessness on the Allegheny River.
A team like the NL-leading Los Angeles Dodgers or the AL-leading New York Yankees would have a hard time overcoming three separate clubhouse incidents. A team like the Pirates, which had average talent before the injuries hit, have no chance to.
In reality though, it’s doubtful that organizations like the Yankees and Dodgers would even put up with most of the bull that the Pirates have.
But, alas, a Pirates team that made a nice run towards the midsummer classic took some literal lumps and have regressed to one of the worst records in baseball from mid-July to mid-September.
They are 17 games out of a divisional race they were neck-and-neck in just under two months ago, and have posted just 31 wins at home this season — the second-worst mark in all of the National League.
The clubhouse fights and the drama have done a fine job of masking some of those pressing issues on the field, such as the team hitting the fifth-fewest homers in the majors or a team ERA that is over five. In addition, Pittsburgh has the third-worst fielding percentage in all of baseball. All of it has added up to a 65-82 record following Thursday’s win over San Francisco and it’s also led to plenty of uneasiness amongst fans as to if, or when, things will improve.
The Pirates do have a solid, young core that includes Bryan Reynolds, Josh Bell and Kevin Newman at the dish and Joe Musgrove, Vazquez (despite the drama, he does have a 1.67 ERA), and Steven Brault.
But it’s the constant sideshows, such as the most recent fight between Crick and Vazquez or the thousands and thousands of empty seats at PNC Park that instead dominate the headlines.
No, the Pirates are not going to cut ties with all of the actors involved in the drama, mainly because that would require the front office to get rid of three of their best relievers.
But what they can, and should do, if Hurdle and Huntigton are going to stick around another year, is at least implement some sort of professionalism around the clubhouse and throughout the ranks of the organization.
It’s fun to laugh at the dysfunction of this team over the last couple of years… until it isn’t. I know there are plenty of diehard Pirates fans — and not just the ones that shell out thousands of dollars for season tickets — who are fed up with grown men acting more like children.
Kyle Crick’s poor choice in music may have been the final straw that the Pirates’ upper management needed to address some of this dysfunction once and for all. If not, they should also be looking for new jobs.