WHY IS CUTCH STILL IN CENTER FIELD?

Why is Andrew McCutchen still playing CF?

Starling Marte is back from suspension. Given McCutchen’s exit by the end of the 2018 season at the latest (and probably much earlier), the Pirates’ long-term plan must certainly still be to use Marte in CF like we saw at season’s start.

But Marte is back, and he’s in LF.

McCutchen remains in CF. Why?

A) McCutchen is playing better defensively than he was last year.

B) McCutchen has been hitting well for over two months, and Manager Clint Hurdle wants to keep McCutchen in his “comfort zone” (even though where McCutchen plays in the field should have zero effect on his hitting).

C) McCutchen is a big baby and Hurdle doesn’t want to have to handle the fallout of moving him out of CF.

D) All of the above, but mostly C.

If you picked D, you’re on to something.

Full disclosure: If I were Hurdle, I’d leave McCutchen in CF, too. Doing otherwise just wouldn’t be worth dealing with, and tangible benefit of such a move would be minimal.

Also, Marte would be unavailable for the playoffs by the terms of his PED suspension. But the Pirates aren’t making the playoffs.

BTW, there’s no good place to play Gregory Polanco. #bust

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS PARENTS SUCK

With the start of the high school football season just a little over two weeks away, John Tortorea resigned the head coaching position at Quaker Valley.

The reason cited: Problems with parents.

That’s absolutely no surprise.

Not every parent of a scholastic athlete sucks. But those who do are a considerable number. They plot, undermine and divide, and coaches can’t get quash it. There are endless horror stories.

Three of the best high school coaches ever in Western Pennsylvania are Upper St. Clair football coach Jim Render, Chartiers Valley boys’ basketball coach Tim McConnell and ex-North Hills football coach Jack McCurry. Winners, respected, the whole nine yards. LEGENDS.

Each, at some point, had to withstand angry parents trying to get him fired. Why?

“Because my little junior wasn’t getting to play enough. Because my little junior is a great athlete, so the coach must be wrong. IT’S NOT FAIR, IT’S NOT FAIR, IT’S NOT FAIR!”

I remember when a school board member at North Hills tried to get rid of McCurry because the school board jamoke’s kid was starting at cornerback, but wanted to play quarterback. MIND-BOGGLING.

In the era of social media, it’s going to get worse, not better. It’s too easy to start a perceived groundswell.

Happy trails to John Tortorea. Let’s face it, coach – you’re better off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dodgers = magic, Pirates = tragic

I heard some nimrod on ESPN say, with great glee and gravitas, “The Los Angeles Dodgers are having a magical season!”

Well, of course the Dodgers are having a “magical season.” They have a payroll of $257 million, and just got P Yu Darvish from Texas.

The Pirates, meanwhile, added a 40-year-old relief pitcher at the trade deadline. Which doesn’t quite fit in with their oft-stated twin platforms of “future” and “youth.”

If you have a payroll of $257m, you are a much better bet to have a “magical season.”

Are the Pirates supposed to have a good season in 2018? Wasn’t 2016 supposed to be a bridge year? What’s that make this year? When does the “future” arrive?

Give me a timetable. All I’ve ever wanted is a timetable.

The Pirates sowed the seeds for failure in 2015, when they took a team that won 98 games and, instead of investing to retain a high percentage of that roster, cut payroll.

This season, problems were exacerbated at two junctures:

*When Starling Marte got suspended for PED use and Jung-Ho Kang’s multiple DUIs kept him out of the U.S., the Pirates should have used the “financial flexibility” thus afforded by acquiring able replacements right then. That’s what contenders do. Instead, mediocrities like John Jaso, David Freese and Jose Osuna got far too many ABs.

*When Gregory Polanco pulled his hamstring July 21, the Pirates had won six straight (nine out of 10) and were two games out of first place in the NL Central. The Pirates should have traded for an OF right then. (Jay Bruce or Melky Cabrera?) That fills a gaping hole and energizes the clubhouse at an critical time. That’s what contenders do. Instead, the Pirates plugged in scrubs and called up Jordan Luplow from AAA.

The Pirates don’t solve problems. They just pocket money and hope you don’t notice.

Attendance at PNC Park is on pace to drop 300K this year. Maybe some of you have noticed.

FOOTBALL = BRAIN DAMAGE

111 football players donated their brains to research. After they died, I presume.

Of those 111 players, 110 had CTE. Brain damage, in layman’s terms.

That’s hardly surprising. Football is a damaging game.

The outrage is thick: “OH MY GOD, WE’VE GOT TO FIX THIS! HOW CAN WE FIX THIS?”

You can’t fix it. So shut up.

The individual can play football, or not.

Society could rise up and cancel football. Fold the NFL, the NCAA, high school football, Pop Warner. Outlaw the whole shebang. (That won’t happen. Football is too big to fail.)

But if you choose to play football, you’re going to hurt your head. If you don’t play football, not so much.

The debate is: To play, or not to play. There is no other question.

The “Concussion” movie starring Will Smith was a big flop. The general public doesn’t care about CTE, or what happens to NFL players after they stop playing.

The hoi polloi just wants to watch football, and somebody is always going to play it.

So ditch the outrage, educate the players, and let them make whatever choice is best for them.

ALMOST CUT MY HAIR

Michael Vick has the answer to Colin Kaepernick’s employment blues: GET A HAIRCUT.

Seriously.

Vick says “the most important thing that [Kaepernick] needs to do is just try to be presentable.”

Vick, who did jail time for running a dog-fighting ring, thinks Kaepernick will be OK if he just ditches the Afro. Never mind the perception that Kaepernick dissed the national anthem, dissed the flag, dissed the troops, dissed the cops and dissed America. Just get rid of the ‘fro, and before long you’ll be stepping under center.

That seems to be horribly simplifying the situation.

I love Kaepernick’s Afro. It’s like Oscar Gamble dipped in Angela Davis with a side of Questlove feeding Julius Erving for a breakaway dunk.

Kaepernick should plan for life post-football. Maybe he’s been blackballed. Maybe he’s not good enough. But for whatever reason, Kaepernick might be done with the NFL, however prematurely.

So are Tony Romo and Jay Cutler. Perhaps they should grow Afros.

THE RESURRECTION OF CUTCH

Andrew McCutchen is pay-me hot.

McCutchen may not be saving his career with his current torrid streak. But, in the last guaranteed year of his contract, he is resurrecting his earning power.

McCutchen was hitting .203 on May 24.

But he hit .411 in June and is hitting .440 so far in July. His average on the season is .295, three points above his lifetime average.

All of McCutchen’s other numbers have fallen into line: For example, he has 10 HR since May 24. He also has 25 walks over that span. McCutchen is again perceived as a threat.

He’s back in the No. 3 spot, elevated from No. 6. He’s back in CF, moved over from RF. His play in the OF has had some anxious moments, but he’s made big plays, too.

It’s difficult to pinpoint a reason for McCutchen turning things around after being rotten for the best part of a year. Perhaps, given his talent, it was just inevitable.

Sadly, the Pirates haven’t kept up with McCutchen: They are 40-47, eight games back in an unexpectedly winnable NL Central.

But McCutchen is a great story.

It will be a sad story when the Pirates trade him by month’s end.

McCutchen, by all accounts, wants to keep playing for the Pirates. But they’re just not going to pay him what he merits. Owner Bob Nutting would flinch at even picking up his $14.5 million club option for next year.

Sentiment aside, McCutchen isn’t going to temper his income to be affordable by Nutting’s pinch-penny standard. McCutchen’s value in a deal will not get higher than it is right now. So, off McCutchen goes.

McCutchen got lots of criticism during his slump. Deservedly so. His petulance betrayed his lack of confidence, and things got worse before they got better.

Saying he was bad was accurate. Identifying his uptick is accurate. I’ve never worn a Pirates jersey with McCutchen’s name and number on the back.

How will Pittsburgh react when Nutting ships McCutchen away just as he’s returned to form? The cynic in me can’t wait to find out.

McENROE SHOULDN’T APOLOGIZE

John McEnroe said that Serena Williams would be ranked “like, No. 700” on the men’s tennis tour. The obligatory faux outrage has materialized.

But in 2013, Williams said on “Late Night with David Letterman” that men’s player Andy Murray would beat her 6-0, 6-0 in “maybe 10 minutes.” Williams also said, “I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

That adds an exclamation point to what McEnroe said. Can a woman be anti-women?

McEnroe has refused to apologize and has been bombarded with the usual epithets, “sexist” being at the top of the list.

But what McEnroe said isn’t sexist. It’s truth. The truth can’t be sexist.

Men are better tennis players because they have superior physical capabilities. A good men’s player would beat Williams 6-0, 6-0. Just ask Williams.

Blame nature. Call nature sexist. Boy, we love to argue with nature these days.

I’m not anti-women’s athletics. But you sure are.

People generally don’t watch women’s athletics. Not live, and not on TV – with women’s tennis being the most prominent exception.

So many are outraged by McEnroe’s comment. But when was the last time any of those people bought tickets to, say, a WNBA game?

The average attendance at a WNBA game last season was 7,655. The lowest average attendance for an NBA team was Denver (14,095).

The National Women’s Soccer League had an average attendance of 5,558 last season. The average attendance at Major League Soccer games was 21,692.

You can pretend that women’s sports matter as much as men’s. But that’s what you’re doing: Pretending. The market dictates.

SIDNEY CROSBY > GORDIE HOWE

I have great respect for all of hockey’s legends, Gordie Howe included.

But you’re allowed to be better than Howe. It’s not against hockey’s rules.

Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky were better than Howe.

Now Sidney Crosby is.

The hockey media and nostalgia fans have a hard time coming to grips: “Mr. Hockey, elbows, he played when he was 52, NO WAY SID’S BETTER!”

But Crosby is. I can’t imagine that Howe – a wing, not a center, who played mostly in a six-team league with 99 percent players from one country – impacted almost every game and almost every shift like Crosby does.

It’s a close debate. Those who choose Howe are not necessarily wrong. (Most of those who choose Howe never saw him play, however.)

My five best hockey players of all time are, in order: Lemieux, Orr, Gretzky, Crosby and Rocket Richard (with Howe sixth). You can argue that order and switch it however you like without being too crazy.

But putting anybody else in the conversation is insane.

Those six are in one class. The likes of Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, etc. are in the next class.

Drop the nostalgia. Embrace the real.

THERE IS NO GOALIE DEBATE

Memo to Penguins fans: THERE IS NO GOALIE DEBATE.

Matt Murray conceded five goals in Game 3 at Nashville Saturday, and some wonder if he’s on a short leash for tonight’s Game 4, also at Bridgestone Arena.

The answer is an emphatic NO.

Even if Murray did play bad enough to get pulled tonight, he’d start Game 5 Thursday.

Murray is the Penguins’ No. 1 goalie. He long ago won that job in the eyes of the only man who matters, Coach Mike Sullivan.

Murray was hurt to start the playoffs, but went back in goal almost as soon as he was healthy and after only a minimal stumble by Marc-Andre Fleury, who deputized brilliantly in Murray’s absence.

That’s because Murray is the No. 1 goalie. That job can’t be up for grabs in the middle of the Stanley Cup Final.

Murray is the last guy Pens fans need to worry about.

Murray, like most of his teammates, was awful Saturday. But Murray is 7-0 after playoff losses. His goals-against average in those games is 1.59, his save percentage .935.

That’s more than a trend, and I’m betting it continues.

One thing is worrisome about Murray’s play: Five of Nashville’s nine goals in this series have beaten him on his glove side. That needs to be remedied, because the Predators are going to keep shooting at that glove.

NHL VP CAMPBELL = PINHEAD

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had a press conference yesterday, and Rob Rossi of Upgruv.com asked about the proliferation of unpunished head shots in the NHL playoffs.

After the press conference, NHL executive VP and director of hockey ops Colin Campbell confronted Rossi and told him his question was “crazy” and “out of line.”

That’s the NHL’s enforcer culture. It’s used on and off the ice.

Campbell is a pinhead. A hack as a player and coach, and a hack as an executive. Guys like Campbell are the problem with the NHL.  Fossils who believe in a way of hockey that shouldn’t exist anymore are all over the NHL’s upper hierarchy.

Rossi asked a totally relevant question, and Campbell came skating over with his stick up. What a buffoon.

Someday, the NHL will lose billions in a CTE/concussion lawsuit. That’s when the legitimacy of Rossi’s question will become apparent, and the NHL will have to pull its head out of the sand (or from Campbell’s southernmost orifice).