After losing 105-games in 2010, the Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to be in disarray. After posting the franchise’s worst record since 1952, general manager Neal Huntington had much work to do in order to restore faith in the organization. At the same time, a 23-year old Josh Harrison had just finished his first (and only) season with the AA-affiliate Altoona Curve. At the time, neither Harrison nor the Pirates were on the radar of those around Major League Baseball.
What a difference four and half years makes.
These days, the Pirates and Harrison are two of the hottest topics in the league. On Wednesday, the Pirates signed their All Star to a four-year contract extension reportedly worth $27.3 million (which could increase to $50 million with options) – ensuring that the blossoming star will stay in the Steel City for the foreseeable future.
Harrison’s extension speaks volumes for both Harrison and the Pittsburgh organization. Huntington’s effort to build a contender through player development has led the once lowly Pirates to become one of the most talented team’s in all of baseball. That talent, which eluded Pittsburgh for the better part of the last two decades, is being kept around thanks to the commitment of the Pittsburgh front office.
For the Pirates, this extension epitomizes the organization’s desire to continue developing a talented roster. In fact, it nearly mirrors the team’s same actions in 2012 when they signed Andrew McCutchen to a six-year deal following his first All Star season.
Pittsburgh’s actions really are brilliant. The organization knows these players well, and their commitment to them allows such deals to be made – deals that are rewarding to the player but also affordable to the team. Yet, at the same time, these two contracts were created to ensure the heart and soul of the Pirates team were kept in tact. Both Harrison and McCutchen are two leaders who do something that is very rare in our world these days – they lead by example. In a society that glorifies the individual, these two men play do whatever it takes to help their team win. These are players who leave it all on the field – guys who play the game the “right” way, as they say.
Around professional sports, front offices are hesitant to make such long-term commitments. Many general managers have been forced to find new jobs after handing over the keys to their franchises to wrong players – guys who are more focused on their personal accomplishments than that of their team. However, the Pirates know there is much more to finding success in this game than just one’s ability on the field. That is why Huntington and the Pirates are willing to make Harrison and McCutchen the faces of their organization.
As the older brother to a 16-year old high school baseball player, I know how hard it can be to teach young athletes how to play with “heart”. We have always been told that “playing with heart” is not something that can be taught – one either has it, or they don’t. What is interested is that guys like Harrison are setting a new standard for the up and coming athlete – proving that playing with passion is just as rewarding.
“Josh [Harrison] and Andrew [McCutchen] are two players solely focused on doing what it takes to help their team win,” Harrison’s agent, Jonathan Maurer of MSM Sports, exclusively shared with Sports Grumble. “McCutchen is a leader who embraces everyone in that clubhouse – from Josh to the long reliever, fellow All Stars to the 25th man on the roster. Ask either of these two during the season about their stats and neither could tell you how many home runs they have hit or what their batting average is. What’s on their mind is the team’s record and where the Pirates sit in the rankings. Both are men who find strength in their faith and their families – and it is that focus that is leading the Pittsburgh organization. The Pirate motto in the 70’s was ‘we are family’, and that is the same mindset they are instilling in today’s Pirates.”
Check out advertisements around baseball. Sure, you might see a quick clip or two of stars knocking one out of the park. But think about what we as fans are most attracted to – players who are willing to get dirty. Guys who slide hard into second base in order to break up a double play. Defenders who are crashing into walls or laying out to take away extra base hits. Guys who are willing to go the other way to knock home the go-ahead run. To put it simply, we are attracted to athletes who will do whatever it takes to help their team win.
In Pittsburgh, manager Clint Hurdle‘s team is garnering a reputation for themselves – gritty. That perception comes straight from the men who leading the Pirates. Watch Harrison, watch McCutchen…
These are guys who slide hard into second just to break up a potential double play.
These are defenders who crash into walls and layout down the line to take away extra base hits.
These are players who will go the other way to knock home a go-ahead run.
These are teammates who do whatever it takes to help the Pirates win.
These are role models who show young athletes what it is like to be a truly selfless teammate.
These are the leaders that Neal Huntington and the rest of the Pittsburgh front office have handed the keys to their franchise over to in hopes of ensuring the success of the past two years continues for many to come.
Be proud, Pittsburgh fans, you are in very good hands.
Cover Photo: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports
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