BRADENTON, Florida (AP) ― Andrew McCutchen walked to the podium, brushed back his trademark dreadlocks, unfolded a sheet of paper and took a deep breath.
The Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star centerfielder looked across the massive ballroom at the Dapper Dan Awards ― think Pittsburgh’s version of the ESPYs ― while accepting the 2012 Sportsman of the Year honor in January and cleared his throat.
“I don’t do this a lot,” McCutchen said.
Maybe, but he better get used to it. It kind of comes with the territory when you become the face of a franchise, particularly one in desperate need of a karmic turnaround.
It wasn’t always this way. Some of the greatest players in the history of the game have worn Pittsburgh’s black-and-gold. Roberto Clemente. Honus Wagner. Willie Stargell. Barry Bonds. There have been a few potential successors since Bonds abandoned Pittsburgh following the 1992 season, though things have never quite worked out.
Jason Kendall made three National League All-Star teams but couldn’t lift the Pirates out of mediocrity in nine dutiful years.
Jason Bay came next, winning Rookie of the Year in 2004. He seemed to be the cornerstone the team needed to build around. There’s even a parking level named for Bay at a garage a block from PNC Park.
In both cases, the always bottom-line conscious Pirates traded away their most valuable assets before losing them on the open market. Ditto Nate McLouth, Aramis Ramirez and Freddy Sanchez and a host of others who have found greater success ― not to mention a bigger paycheck ― away from the Steel City.
Pittsburgh management insists the days of being a farm system for teams with deeper pockets are over.
Perhaps more importantly, McCutchen does too. That’s why he agreed to a six-year $51-million contract extension last spring, a deal that looks like a bargain after the dazzling McCutchen put together one of the finest seasons in recent memory.