Pittsburgh Pirates fans love to complain about their team’s management, and with 20 losing season in the books, there’s plenty of ammunition with which they have to work.
However, the release of Ryan Vogelsong is not one of them.
Pirates fans remember Vogelsong from his time in Pittsburgh when, from 2003-06, he went 10-17 with a 5.87 ERA, little control and poor strikeout numbers. After four miserable seasons, Vogelsong was designated for assignment and spent the next three years pitching in Japan.
The success of Vogelsong over the past two seasons has become a sticking point for fans and writers who like to take shots at former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, the man responsible for the decision to release Vogelsong in 2006. Littlefield is an easy whipping boy for those tired of the Pirates string of futility, as his string of poor contracts and unsuccessful first round draft picks have left the Pirates even further away from being competitive than they were when he took them over.
That said, of all the poor decisions Littlefield made during his tenure, releasing Vogelsong wasn’t one of them. In fact, it was good that they let him go when they did.
It’s not just that Vogelsong didn’t pan out the way the Pirates had hoped. He was terrible. The team tried him in their rotation and in their bullpen, and neither was successful.
Vogelsong is one of the most astonishing reclamation stories in recent baseball memory, coming back from being completely unwanted in major league baseball and playing for three years in Japan, to pitching the San Francisco Giants to a playoff victory.
Vogelsong’s reclamation as a key piece in a playoff rotation, and above-average starter in the National League, for two straight years is one of those things inexplicable things in sports that make it so enjoyable to watch. But if you find me a Giants executive who said he saw this coming from Vogelsong, and I’ll show you a big fat liar.
The Pirates aren’t even the latest team to give up on Vogelsong. Before emerging with the Giants, Vogelsong was released by the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels, both during the 2010 season, meaning that as recently as three years ago, there were still many smart baseball minds who didn’t think Vogelsong was even a Triple-A pitcher.
How was the Pirates management supposed to see this coming over a half-decade ago?
Most importantly, there’s little chance that Vogelsong would even been with the Pirates at this point in his career. Even if he had been the same pitcher in Pittsburgh he is now, the Pirates haven’t exactly been a franchise that keeps its top players in town. In fact, there are exactly zero players from the 2006 Pirates team that are still with the organization.
So get over it, Pirates fans. Vogelsong’s success has nothing to do with your run of terrible baseball, and is far from an example of why you have suffered so long. Your pain is understandable, but there are far better arguments to be made than the six-year old release of a then-terrible pitcher.