The Pittsburgh Pirates are the owners of the two best stories in baseball this season. And it’s not even close.
Crash Davis Comes to Pittsburgh
Story No. 1: Drew Maggi, 33, has been in Minors for 13 seasons. He has played 1,155 games – none in the Big Leagues. Call him Crash Davis if you’d like. But Maggi was called up in late April and made his MLB debut.
“I always believed this moment would come,” Maggi told reporters. “There was a little bit of me that was like, ‘You know what? You love playing baseball. Keep going no matter what.’ Crazy things happen in this game. So, I’m very thankful that I’m here and that I get to enjoy this. I’m excited for the day.
The day came, long after he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins on Sept. 18, 2
It’s been a long road for Maggi, who has played 1,155 games across 13 minor league seasons. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 15th round of the 2010 draft. He’s played for the Arkansas Travelers and the Oklahoma City Dodgers, among other stops.
Maggi was sent back to the minors, but he got a couple of hits and batted .333 in three games. If you didn’t root for Maggi get to a hit you need to go for an EKG immediately because you might not have a heart.
The Pirates Are MLB’s Surprise Team
Story No. 2: The Pirates were still in first place in the National League Central Division going into the second week in May. This is not a misprint. The franchise that hasn’t played in postseason since 2015 and has never won the division since it was created in 1994. Their last World Series title came in 1979.
The Pirates entered the season with a payroll of $75.5million. The St. Louis Cardinals, the heavyweight in the division is $160 million. The Mets’ payroll is $345.8 million. Pittsburgh (21-17) was in first place as of this writing. The Cardinals were 13-24. The Mets were 17-19.
Pittsburgh and the Cincinnati Reds were the overwhelming choices to finish last and second-to-last in the division. The Pirates were coming off a 62-100 season. Then one of the prize young players, shortstop Oneil Cruz, broke his ankle in a play at the plate.
The Pirates kept winning.
“Everybody would be lying if they said they saw this, specifically, happening — but everybody in here knew that we were good,” leftfielder Bryan Reynolds told reporters. “Granted, there’s still a lot of season left, but it’s not necessarily a huge surprise to us — a welcome surprise, if you will.”
The fact that Reynolds is even on the team is a mild upset. Reynolds, the closest thing the Pirates have to a star, requested a trade in December. Every big-spending team called the Pirates.
Bryan Revnolds Signs the Biggest Deal in Pirate’s History
Then on April 25th, the Pirates did something more shocking than their winning record. They signed Reynolds to a reported eight-year, $106.75 million deal. It was the largest in franchise history.
The Penny-Pinching Pathetic Pirates shook the baseball world. The had talked about building a winning, a narrative as long as the Ohio River, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge at the Golden Triangle.
Reynolds opened the season at +12,500 to win MVP. That number has made a drastic move to +3000 and Reynolds (297 batting average, five homers, 23 RBI) hasn’t really caught fire yet.
The Pirates remain a dark horse in Vegas. They’re +550 to win the Central. The Milwaukee Brewers are -140. But Pittsburgh is undaunted even if the rest of baseball is asking, “How has this happen?”
The key has been the return of fan favorite Andrew McCutchen who was the face of the franchise when they made the playoffs from 2013-15 and won the National League MVP award. He provides the leadership these young Bucs can look to. There isn’t a better leader in baseball.
A couple of young players – Rodolfo Castro and Jack Suwinski – have produced. The pitching has been better than expected. The signing of Reynolds has injected an optimism into the clubhouse – Pittsburgh will pay its stars.
There is a long season to go. The Milwaukee Brewers are surging. The beauty of a 162-game season is that it usually weeds out the pretenders soon enough.
But hey the Pirates have a nice family thing going, just as they did in 1979 when Sister Sledge’s hit, “We Are Family,” became the team’s and city’s anthem.
If the Pirates are still hanging around at the All-Star Break, it might be a good idea to dust off that LP and crank it up in PNC Park. Regardless, the Pirates have already provided some of the best feel-good stories of the 2023 season.