For two decades, Pirates fans watched as scrap-heap guys like Warren Morris, Pat Meares, Bobby Hill, Jimmy Anderson, Pokey Reese, John Van Benschoten and Mr. Operation Shutdown (Derek Bell) were passed off as legitimate major leagues, while talents like Aramis Ramirez and Jose Bautista were either traded in salary dumps or given up on too early.
Few fans knew misery like Pirates fans from 1992 until 2013.
What happened in 2013?
Russell Martin arrived.
And everything changed just like that.
Pitcher A.J. Burnett came to Pittsburgh a year before Martin, and Burnett brought a toughness and attitude that not only proved valuable in the clubhouse, it captivated Yinzer Nation. But when Martin came after a stint with the New York Yankees, the Pirates went from a team that was missing something to a team that knew how to win.
Martin deserves as much credit for that as anyone else in the Pirates organization – Neal Huntingdon, Clint Hurdle, Andrew McCutchen, Burnett, etc. Martin’s a winner. Always has been, and his winning ways quickly became contagious.
Martin gave the Pirates something they lacked since Jason Kendell pre-gruesome injury – a backstop who can hit and, most importantly, keep baserunners honest. Martin started throwing out runners. The clutch hits kept coming.
Twenty years of losing, gone. A playoff team was born.
Then, in the Pirates wild card game against Cincinnati (scene to the best single-game home crowd in North American sports history), Martin provided a lasting moment.
That’s magic. Twenty years of misery. Poof. Gone. That’s what Russell Martin did.
There were other special moments, too.
And, this one, made more special because it came against those arrogant Brewers, you know the team with the drug cheat Ryan Braun.
Martin did more for Pirates baseball in two years than Dave Littlefield did undoing Pirates baseball during his way-too-long tenure with the club. He provided magic moments, steady defense, leadership, chill-inducing clutch hits and class.
And Martin will be greatly missed.
He signed an insane 5-year, $82-million contract with Toronto Monday. That price tag is more than the Pirates can afford. Can’t blame Martin for heading home to Canada. Can;t blame the Pirates for not resigning him. That type of contract could cause more harm than good for an organization that still needs to spend money wisely.
But we’ll always have 2013 and 2014.