By John Perrotto
Looking back at the Pirates in the 2000s, as the decade comes to a close, there have been some positives for the franchise.
For one, they opened PNC Park in 2001 and it is generally considered the best facility in the major leagues.
Secondly, uh, secondly, well there really is no second.
The 2000s consisted of a whole lot of losing by the Pirates as they finished under .500 during all 10 seasons of the decade. That pushes their streak of losing seasons to 17, a record for major North American team sports.
However, let’s sift through the rubble of the 2000s, a period in which the Pirates never won more than 75 games in a season and averaged nearly 94 losses a year to try to pick an all-decade team for the woebegone franchise:
Catcher_Jason Kendall. Even though “The Kid” wasn’t as good in the 2000s after the horrific ankle injury suffered in 1999 and his six-year, $60-million contract quickly became an albatross around the franchise’s neck, he was better than anyone who came after he was traded to Oakland prior to the 2005 season.
First baseman_Adam LaRoche. He never lived up the hype that was generated when he was acquired from the Braves in a trade following the 2006 season and he never heated up until the second halves of season. Nevertheless, he was the best at a position where Kevin Young _ yes, Kevin Young _ was the only other serious candidate.
Second baseman_Freddy Sanchez. His 2006 National League batting title was certainly one of the Pirates’ few highlights of the first decade of the millennium and his three straight All-Star Game appearances were nice, even if they came primarily because the Major League Baseball rules require each team to have at least one representative in the game.
Third baseman_Aramis Ramirez. That the Pirates gave him _ and Kenny Lofton, don’t forget _ away to the Cubs for nothing in a July, 2003 trade still haunts this franchise as he keeps producing in Chicago. The only other player who can even be considered at this spot is Jose Bautista. Yes, Pedro Alvarez can’t make it to Pittsburgh soon enough.
Shortstop_Jack Wilson. He provided an above-average defensive presence for 8 ½ seasons before being traded to the Mariners last July and always kept a smile on his face despite being stuck in the glummest situation in baseball.
Outfielder_Jason Bay. Undoubtedly the Pirates’ best player of the decade, his 2004 was memorable as he became the only Pirates player ever to win the National League Rookie of the Year. He was a class guy who could be counted on for a professional effort each and every day without complaint.
Outfielder_Brian Giles. Despite being traded to San Diego late in the 2003 season, he provided more production in just less than four seasons than almost any other Pirates players in the decade. He helped the Pirates on the field and then some more on his way out the door as former general manager Dave Littlefield, in one of his few good moves, traded Giles to the Padres for Bay.
Outfielder_John Vander Wal. That he played only 1 2/3 seasons with the Pirates in this decade yet makes the team is somewhat a tribute to him but more an indictment of how bad the franchise has been. He is a close winner over the incomparable Craig Wilson for the final spot in the outfield.
Left-handed starting pitcher_Paul Maholm. He has provided a steady workmanlike presence during his five full seasons as a member of the rotation.
Right-handed starting pitcher_Josh Fogg. A mediocre hurler, to be sure, but the best of an extremely mediocre bunch of northpaws.
Relief pitcher_Mike Williams. A microcosm of the Pirates of the 2000s in that he made All-Star Game appearances in 2002 and 2003 then was out of the major leagues for good by the start of the 2004 season.
John Perrotto covered the Pirates throughout the 2000s _ and the 1990s, too _ primarily for the Beaver County Times and is now Inside Pittsburgh Sports’ Pirates Insider.