We’re back with the third and final piece of our Pirates’ MVP series. It started with Dick Groat and Roberto Clemente on Friday, then continued with Dave Parker and Willie Stargell yesterday. Again, the Pirates have had six MVP-winners in their history. So that means we’ve got two left: outfielders Barry Bonds and Andrew McCutchen.
Major League Baseball’s all-time home run king is also a former Pittsburgh Pirate. Bonds was the sixth overall pick in the 1985 amateur draft, ultimately making his debut on May 30, 1986. He would finish his rookie campaign with 16 home runs and 48 RBI, but batted just .223. As we know, Bonds would improve to the point of winning the NL MVP Award not once, but twicea��taking the honor in 1990 and in 1992.
His legacy of battling accusations of steroid use is well-documented, of course. But, Pirates fans may remember Bonds more for his failures at the plate the three consecutive postseasons from 1990-1992a��when the Pirates failed to make the World Series after losing to the Cincinnati Reds and then the Atlanta Braves in successive seasons. In 1990, when Bonds was named MVP, the slugger hit just .167 in 18 at-bats against the Reds. He failed to hit a home run and knocked in just one run. Blame was also put on Bobby Bonilla, another Pirate with a heavy bat who hit just .190 that series.
That year, Bonds had smashed 33 home runs, hit .301, knocked in 114 runs, stole 52 bases, scored 104 times and accounted for 32 doubles and three triples. But in the playoffs, his bat disappeared.
Two years later, Bonds had another fantastic season at the plate, again being named NL MVP by writers. This time, he led the league in runs scored (109) and improved his average to .311. Another 34 round-trippers went onto his career totals, and 1992 saw him knock in 103 runs. 39 stolen bases later, Bonds also finished with 36 doubles and five triples. But facing the Atlanta Braves in a rematch of the NL Championship seriesa��which Atlanta had won four games to three in 1991a��Bonds again went ghost.
In a series that will be remembered most for ex-Pirate Sid Bream crossing the plate with the winning run on a Francisco Cabrera base hit as the Braves won in the bottom of the ninth 4-3, Bonds hit nowhere near his season averages. With a mark of .261, the son of ex-major leaguer Bobby Bonds did manage one four-bagger. But with just six hits, many believed had he produced on the level of the regular season, perhaps the Pirates would have advanced to the World Series to face the Toronto Blue Jays.
Bonds of course, went on to win five more MVP awardsa��all with the San Francisco Giants.
Finally we have current Pirates stud, Andrew McCutchen. Like Bonds before him, the Bucs drafted another star in the making. And with the 11th overall pick, it was also a first-roundera��one Andrew McCutchen. Unlike Bonds, it would take a�?Cutcha�? four years to make it to the bigsa��the magical date being June 4, 2009. In four at bats against the New York Mets, Cutch delivered two base hits, an RBI and a stolen base. At the end of his rookie season his numbers reflected a .285 batting average, 12 home runs, 22 stolen bases, nine triples, 26 doubles and 54 RBIs. Andrew McCutchen was well on his way to stardom.
Also unlike Bonds, McCutchen has had a much better relationship with the media and the fans. Bonds was often seen as a more private, brooding player while Cutch is beloved by Pirates fans everywhere. So in 2013 when the Buccos finally broke the string of 20 years without a winning record, McCutchen provided his team with his best effort of his career to date with a final season average of .317, 38 doubles, five triples, 84 RBIs, 27 stolen bases and 21 home runs. As a reward, Cutch claimed the MVP award for the National League.
There might not be an MVP from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017, and that’s okay. In the Steel City, it’s not about awards or statisticsa��it’s about winning. Any Pirates fan will tell you that they would trade a Most Valuable Player title for another division title or another World Series appearance. Or better yet, another World Series. But for this season’s Buccos, they are currently fighting to get out of the basement in the National League’s Central Division.
Can Cutch turn his, and his team’s season around?
For more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!