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Kevin Gorman: Pirates shouldn’t let longevity stop them from honoring legends

August 23, 2018

Chris Archer was only paying a compliment, but it was one that steered the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ship straight into a Bermuda Triangle of baseball debates.

When the Pirates traded for Archer, he avoided one controversy but inadvertently created another by declining to wear No. 22 and accepting No. 24 instead.

Archer did so out of respect for Andrew McCutchen, asserting he was a Pirates legend whose No. 22 should be retired. But by switching to No. 24 -- most recently worn by Tyler Glasnow -- Archer accepted a number of another Pirates legend whose number should be retired.

It was absolutely appropriate when the San Francisco Giants retired Barry Bonds’ No. 25 Saturday night. His 762 home runs are most in MLB history, and 586 came in 15 seasons with the Giants.

The Pirates have retired nine numbers in their 137-year history, seven of them Hall of Fame players: Ralph Kiner (4), Willie Stargell (8), Bill Mazeroski (9), Paul Waner (11), Pie Traynor (20), Roberto Clemente (21) and Honus Wagner (33). The other two are managers Billy Meyer (1) and Danny Murtaugh (40).

It’s been three decades since the Pirates retired a jersey, and Bonds and McCutchen should be on the short list of people who deserve team consideration for such honors. McCutchen, however, dismissed such talk this weekend.

“No, I don’t think I deserve that,” McCutchen told The Athletic. “I went to the postseason with the Pirates a few times. We didn’t win any World Series championships. So I don’t look at myself as being the same caliber of player as Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski. There is a lot of history there with what they’ve done, and they did it all in the same uniform: a Pirates uniform.

“I was there for nine seasons. That’s it. I could see if it I’d stayed there, put up some really good numbers, won some championships, played there my whole career. Maybe. Maybe. I don’t know.”

Wasn’t it Pirates general manager Neal Huntington who said upon trading McCutchen that “the nature of professional sports in this day and age is that players come and players go” and that it’s unrealistic to expect small-market teams to keep superstars for their entire career?

If so, longevity should be eliminated from the conversation, especially in the age of free agency. Bonds and McCutchen were generational superstars, players drafted and developed by the Pirates who became catalysts who reversed losing trends and carried them to three consecutive postseasons.

That should count for something.

So should their statistics.

Bonds was a two-time All-Star in seven seasons with the Pirates, winning three Gold Gloves while hitting 176 home runs with 556 RBIs and sandwiching NL MVP awards in 1990 and ’92 around a second-place finish in ’91.

McCutchen was a five-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Pirates, winning one Gold Glove while hitting 203 home runs with 725 RBIs and winning the 2013 NL MVP.

That they didn’t win a World Series is a shortcoming but one that shouldn’t prevent the Pirates from recognizing their success. Even the star of a World Series champion hasn’t had his number retired.

That would be No. 39 Dave Parker, who was a four-time All-Star in 11 seasons with the Pirates and hit 166 home runs with 758 RBIs, was a two-time NL batting champion and 1978 NL MVP.

Of the three, only Bonds is a lock for the Hall of Fame -- even if you believe they should come with an asterisk because of suspicion of steroid use -- while Parker is a borderline candidate, and McCutchen would need a complete career resurgence to receive any consideration.

Kiner is the standard for short-term success as a six-time All-Star in eight seasons with the Pirates who hit 301 home runs with 801 RBIs. But even he was traded in 1953, a year after the Pirates lost 112 games.

That should set some precedent for the perceived exclusivity of the Pirates retiring a number. Meyer was the manager of that ’52 team that produced the second-worst record in franchise history. Meyer’s record as Pirates manager was 317-452, so his inclusion is a mystery.

In that case, add Chuck Tanner’s No. 7 to the mix. Tanner’s record as Pirates manager was 711-685 in nine seasons, and he led the 1979 Pirates to 98 wins and a World Series championship.

The Pirates might never have another Hall of Fame-caliber player who spends his entire career with the club. And if we are waiting for a player talented enough to lead the Pirates to a World Series championship, it might be take another generation for that to happen.

The Pirates don’t have to retire any of those numbers, but it would serve as an honor for the players and manager involved and a history lesson for a younger generation of fans who know the players whose numbers are retired only by their names and statistics.

We know Bonds and McCutchen and even Parker and Tanner by our memories of them leading the Pirates to a place of prominence.

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