By BEN HOROWITZ
There are many exciting and inspiring stories that continue to unfold as the baseball regular season nears its end. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera has had another fantastic season. The small-market, little known Oakland Athletics are leading the American League West, and Yasiel Puig rose from Cuban oblivion to become the star of a Dodger team that has a commanding lead in the National League West. But no story is sweeter than that of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They haven’t made the playoffs since 1992, when they traded away the now infamous Barry Bonds. The 20 years since then have been years of futility and irrelevance, with the team seemingly in a constant “rebuilding” mode, without the money to acquire elite talent and compete with the big-market Cardinals. Building the new PNC Park in 2001 and hosting the all-star game were rare happy moments, but the Pirates inaugurated the new home with more years of mediocrity. Now, all these things have changed. The latest rebuilding has proved monumentally successful, and the Pirates are neck and neck with the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central heading into the season’s final weeks. The centerpiece of that rebuilding was star center fielder Andrew McCutchen. A star high school athlete in track, football and baseball, McCutchen was the Pirates’ first round draft pick in 2005 and bypassed college in favor of the Minor Leagues. He made his major league debut just three years later at
the age of 22, and soon became the Pirates’ mainstay in center field. The pirates have steadily improved since he joined the team, until reaching elite contender status this season. McCutchen is a true five-tool player, one of the most highly enviable descriptions in baseball scouting, and one that is often used erroneously to describe “top” prospects that turn out to be busts. The five tools are hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, throwing ability, and fielding ability. McCutchen’s stats show it all. He is in the National League’s’ Top-3 for batting average, hits, doubles and on base percentage, as well as the Top-5 in slugging percentage and runs scored. He has stolen 27 bases. In the field, he has terrific range patrolling center field and his arm is dangerous for any base-runner to challenge. These stellar numbers coupled with the Pirates’ performance have made McCutchen the clear favorite to win this year’s National League MVP. But his value extends beyond pure production. He is the Pirate’s captain and unanimous leader, and its clear to everyone around him that has completely bought into this Pirates team. In this regard, his actions speak louder than words. He signed a 6 year, 51 million dollar extension with Pittsburgh over the offseason, though he certainly could have commanded more money with big market teams if he launched into the free agent market. In a world where almost all sports players seem to just go where the money takes them, this is a shining example of true loyalty to the team that drafted McCutchen out of high school and fostered his development into one of baseball’s most exciting players. This move also bestowed upon him the unconditional love of the Pirate faithful, who are finally excited about Pittsburgh baseball again. I’m excited to see what the Pirates accomplish, and I’m rooting for them to win the NL Central. It’s always a feel good story to see a team rise from ineptitude to playoff success, and with the Mets still mired in their own futility, I’m open to pick another favorite for the playoff contest. (Don’t think I’ve forgotten what the Cardinals did the last time the Mets were on the brink of the world series.) But even for fans of other teams in playoff contention, it’s hard not to rally behind an inspiring player, who exemplifies the best of baseball and stands out for unquestioning dedication to his team and city.