1997 Freak Show

The first and only competitive Pirate team I remember before this current one was the 1997 Freak Show. They are the team that really captured my attention and made me a never-die fan of the Pirates (even the die-hards have left, although they are returning now).  Two moments from that season really stick out in my mind. One was the Cordova-Rincon combined no hitter, ending in the bottom of the 10th with Mark Smith’s walk off home run. The other was the sweep of the Chicago White Sox. First year on interleague play and Albert Belle was making 10 million dollars, at that time the entire Pirate roster made only 9 million. Three Rivers was an awesome sight that day. Since I was only 8 though a lot of facts such as the names of some of the players and the teams final record have escpaed me. I am going take this chance to look back and see just how the 1997 Pirates were comprised.

First and foremost they went 79-83 and finished 2nd in the division. Houston ended up winning the division by 5 games. The Pirates were officiailly eliminated on Thursday September 25th when the Houston Astros bat the Chicago Cubs by the score of 9-1. At that point Houston and Pittsburgh each only had 3 games remaining and they were against each other. That means if Houston would have lost the Pirates would have had a chance to force a playoff by sweeping the Astros.

The starting 8 composed of:

Jason Kendall, C

Kevin Young, 1B

Tony Womack, 2B

Joe Randa, 3B

Kevin Polcovich, SS

Al Martin, LF

Jermaine Allensworth, CF

Jose Guillen, RF

The 5 starters who made the most starts were:

Esteban Loaiza

Jon Lieber

Jason Schmidt

Francisco Cordova

Steve Cook

Amazingly enough those 5 started all but 5 of the games that season.

Kevin Young lead the team in HR, RBI, SLG and OPS. Only 3 players played enough to qualify for the batting title and of those two Kendall had the best average at .294 (Joe Randa lead all regulars with a .302 average). The highest OBP belonged to Kendall at .391 and Womack led the way with 60 SB.  Other key contributors included Dale Sveum, Mark Johnson, Mark Smith, Turner Ward, Adrian Brown, Kevin Elster, Keith Osik, Midre Cummings, Emil Brown and Eddie Williams.

On the pitching side Loaiza, Lieber and Cordova tied for the team lead in wins with 11. Schmidt had 10, Cook 9 and amazingly RP Marc Wilkins also had 9. Rich Loiselle was the closer finishing with 29 saves. The best ERA on the staff belonged to Cordova at 3.63 and he also led in WHIP at 1.254. Lieber led the way with a 7.6 SO/9 rate. In addtion to Loiselle and Wilkins, Matt Ruebel, Ricardo Rincon, Clint Sodowsky, Chris Peters, Jose Silva and Jason Christiansen logged significant time in the bullpen.

Going more advance 6 batters provided a WAR of 1.0 or greater. Kendall led the way with 4.8, followed by Randa at 4.0, Young at 3.2, Ward at 1.5, Smith at 1.4 and amazingly Shawon Duston at 1.0 (Duston had only 74 PA). The least valuable hitter on the team was Jose Guillen at a -2.8 WAR. Allensworth and Adrian Brown are the only other two players to produce a WAR worse than -1.0 as a hitter.

Looking at the pitching side 7 players produced a WAR greater than 1.0 but noone else had a WAR greater than 0.5. Cordova and Lieber led the way at 3.5, Loaiza followed at 3.2, Schmidt at 2.9, Cooke at 1.9, Rincon at 1.2 and Loiselle at 1.1.

Looking back at this team brings some fond memories and to me at least these guys seem to line up pretty well with the 2010 version. I mean think about 5 starters are all playing great and keeping them in ball games; the numbers suggest that was the case in 1997 as well. The order is comprised of not much more than scrap. I mean the threesome of Kendall, Randa and Young did well but the current group has McCutchen, Walker and Tabata. Both squads also had a young player whom a lot was expected of but who failed. Guillen in 1997 and of course Alvarez this season.

Lets hope the season fin ishes a little brighter for this squad but even if it doesn’t being compared to the 1997 Pirate team isn’t the worst thing. The 1997 group like this group was fun to watch and seemingly came out of no where. Freak shows they both are. I’m like a lot of you are curious to see how Act 2 ends.


Note: The 3rd and final part of my trade deadline preview is running a little late. Should be up some time this evening. Thanks again to my followers fell free to spread the word about my blog.


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