As news of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ inevitable trade of centerfielder Andrew McCutchen begins to sink in, in earnest this time, we ponder his true impact on the city that made him a star.
We all knew this day was coming.
If, like me, you held out some glimmer of hope that Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen would sign a contract extension this offseason, guaranteeing he would retire a Pirate, congratulations – you are an optimist and the world needs more people like you in it.
But in truth, we all knew this day would come. In 2018 Andrew McCutchen will don a uniform color other than black and gold for the first time in his MLB career.
And the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield will never look the same.
There are a lot of people out there right now whose fingers are flying feverishly across their keyboards, mouses clicking between multiple baseball stats sites – in full-on baseball geek mode analyzing things like WAR, OBP and OPS and tapping their fingertips together Montgomery Burns-style at the thought of who might be joining the Pittsburgh Pirates in return. And I’ll leave that up to them. I’ve never really been enthralled by all of the big data of baseball. I like the simple, elegant complexity of the game. I work to see players beyond their numbers – to the humans underneath the uniforms.
And Andrew McCutchen is as good a human as they come.
Drafted 11th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005, the man that we all came to call Cutch, gave up an opportunity to play baseball at the University of Florida to enter the team’s burgeoning farm system. It was the first of many sacrifices he made to stick with the team that saw his many talents, but in a big way, didn’t recognize them. And yes, I’m talking about money.
The Face of the Franchise
In spring 2012, McCutchen signed a 6-year, $51.5 million contract extension with the Bucs, which included a $14.75 million option for 2018. By that time, everyone knew what McCutchen was capable of – and he didn’t disappoint. The Pirates front office was lauded as heroes for tying up such talent in such a team-friendly contract. And Cutch, he was just happy to be playing baseball.
Andrew McCutchen and his trademark dreads quickly became the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise. He represented a new era of baseball for a team mired in mediocrity – hope, even among the lean years that with talent and commitment like his, something had to break through. And he did it with a trademark smile and attitude that made you believe he enjoyed buoying the expectations of a city full of – ahem – passionate sports fans. He took on his role as ambassador of Bucs Baseball with pleasure and respect for the legends who went before him. And he didn’t just make an impact as an athlete.
In 2015 Andrew McCutchen received the Roberto Clemente award from Major League Baseball. The award is given annually to the player who best exemplifies Clemente’s spirit on and off the field. From his visits to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and generous contributions to their foundation to the days he spends each season with seriously ill children through Make-A-Wish Foundation to Cutch’s Crew that runs marathons and raises money for Pirates charities to those smaller acts of kindness he carries out under the radar, Andrew McCutchen brought to Pittsburgh kindness and generosity of time, spirit and yes, wallet.
“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” Robeto Clemente
As Pittsburgh adjusts to a new era of Cutchless-baseball, the thing that will be missed most about the 31 year-old is his heart, his capacity to care and his desire to be a part of the city itself.
It is who he is and what he hopes to be remembered for, he told MLB’s Adam Berry in November 2015 after receiving the Clemente award. “That’s really all that matters, that you’re doing your job and helping people and helping those who can’t help themselves,” McCutchen said. He told Berry that the award meant more to him than being named 2013 National League MVP. That’s a man with his head – and his heart – in the right place.
And if the people of Pittsburgh need any proof of the impact this city has had on Andrew McCutchen – it can be found in the miracle created by Cutch and wife, Maria: their son, Steel Stefan McCutchen. A man who was cheered, and in recent years jeered, by the collective Pittsburgh sports fandom, chose a name inexorably linked to this city, and its past and his past in it. You don’t just do that on a whim.
So, while tears fall at the exit of a man who will inevitably be regarded as one of the legends of the storied Pittsburgh Baseball Club, I, for one, am thankful that someone with such grace – on and off the field – shared his firsts with us. I’m thankful for what he did for this team, but more importantly, what he did for this city. Yes, he brought us a blacked-out PNC Park in 2013, he brought us a few years of winning baseball, but more than that, he brought us hope. And for Pirates fans, there is nothing more important.
Thank you Andrew McCutchen, and Godspeed.
Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography