RECLAMATION: Andrew McCutchen rightfully will be part of Pirates lore forever


The Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB great Andrew Stefan McCutchen recently achieved the feat of collecting 2,000 hits in his career. It occurred on a sunny day at PNC Park, Cutch’s first at-bat in the first inning against the New York Mets on Sunday, June 11.

However, that endeavor was far more than just a mere statistic joining other MLB statistics. The fact that Andrew McCutchen achieved such a milestone while facing innumerable obstacles makes the achievement even more remarkable. 

Andrew McCutchen made his Pittsburgh Pirates MLB debut on July 9, 2009, at PNC Park, surrounded by much fanfare. At that time, his was a story of greatness that was patiently waiting in the wings of Major League Baseball to be told. Before the 2008 season had even begun, Baseball America named him the #14 prospect in the minor leagues, and Baseball Prospectus named him the #24 prospect. Also, in 2008, McCutchen was a mid-season International League All-Star, an All-Star Futures Game selection, and the Triple-A All-Star Game top star.

McCutchen wasn’t standing around waiting for greatness; greatness had already been bestowed on him based on talent and an insatiable work ethic. He was also a facilitator of excellence, motivating those around him to strive to be better athletes, teammates, and human beings.

However, during the initial McCutchen era, the Pirates perverted the term, “farm team.” Most “farmers” may plant, grow, and harvest crops to sustain the general population, but always reserve enough of the harvest to feed and sustain their immediate family, friends, and neighbors through the next harvest season.

It appeared to many fans and foes alike that the Pirates organization was not “growing” players to compete for championships, but management was “fattening” up players to be harvested by more affluent markets. It was almost like they were raising and selling the finest Angus beef at the highest prices for public consumption, but the family of the farmer very seldom heard a fat steak sizzling on a hot grill, because they were forced to eat Vienna sausage in order not “eat up the profit.”

As far as the Pirates ownership was concerned, the “Cutch era” was not about building a championship team, but was more about building a championship “bottom line.” Andrew McCutchen suffered through it like a kid developing relationships with other kids only to have many of those connections severed by the nomadic actions of their parents. Yet, he remained loyal, steady, and dignified through a very undignified and uncivilized process.

Once upon a time, Andrew McCutchen had teammates such as Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton, but in the end, they, too, were shipped off with little or no fanfare. 

However, his former teammates had the ultimate respect for him. Neil Walker had this to say about McCutchen: “Getting to watch him on a daily basis, how athletic he was, the things that he couldn’t do were so few. I still to this day say that he was probably the best player I ever played with.”

Former teammate infielder Josh Harrison, himself a former MLB All-Star, talks about the impact of McCutchen returning to Pittsburgh saying: “Think about everything he’s been through. Even in Pittsburgh, just in general. When you leave a place, you never know if you’re going to get to come back or when the next time you are going to come back. So, for him to be able to come back and do that at a place that’s home for him, I don’t think that’s anything anybody would take lightly. Things come full circle.”

Following a tumultuous decade that included rampant drug use and fiscal mismanagement, the late Syd Thrift took over as the Pirates GM on Nov. 7, 1985. At the time, Mr. Thrift had a less-than-positive analysis of the state of the Pirates franchise saying: “It ain’t easy resurrecting the dead.” 

Well then, if Mr. Thrift could be heralded by many as “Lazarus number one” regarding the restoration of the Pirates during the 1980s-90s, then it is not an unreasonable stretch of the imagination to anoint Andrew McCutchen as “Lazarus number two” regarding the restoration of the Pirates seeking to reclaim competitive decency during the mid-2010s.

Look at it this way. If McCutchen had not been traded and passed around like a journeyman and had remained on the Pirates roster for his entire career, it is a distinct possibility that he could be approaching 2,700 to 3,000 hits as opposed to just now accomplishing the feat of 2,000 hits. The Pirates didn’t sacrifice him to sign multiple players to strengthen their roster, he was simply sacrificed to increase their bottom line, in my opinion. Yet he remained steadfast, while fat cats sat in smoke-filled back rooms, chomping on fat cigars, chillin’ in leather-covered easy chairs, making ill-advised deals, infected with the pathogen of narcissism. 

Meanwhile, Andrew McCutchen inevitably became the Phoenix whose only purpose was to lift his franchise from the ashes of incompetency and navigate them back to the arena of competitive competency.  We should all be so lucky to have a person like Andrew McCutchen in our corner, in a time of need.



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