Pittsburgh Pirates: Worshipping at the House of Mercer

Before you read, go to Twitter right now, and follow @mercerboy    Don’t ask why.  Just do it.  Right now.

Any time someone drops a sports methaphor like the following, you take notice:

I’m not one of those guys that despises [Pirates' owner Bob Nutting] and wants to rip him, but that interview was kind of stupid.  He can talk all he wants about getting scrutinized and hating seeing every loss, but at the end of the day, he still makes more money.  He could easily not care about what other people say about him if that is his end goal.

Coming to a Skyblast near you; Image credit hoffstrizz

I’m a believer in God, but one could argue that the Pirates’ ownership group is like a shady televangelist.  The fans are suffering and misguided and long to be happy. The guy in charge tells them they can feel happy and complete because his management team has a plan to save everyone. All they need to do is believe in the plan and accept it. They’re told that they need to have faith, and be patient, and eventually they will be rewarded. The people go to the place of “worship,” feel happy for a few hours, and give money to further the work of the team towards the end goal. We’ll never know for sure if he was right until we’re dead, but in the meantime, the team is making lots of money.

Glory be to the Pirates.  Amen.   

Greg Mercer is a star of Pittsburgh sports cyberspace, and we’re all just orbiting him.  The 33-year old from New Castle, PA has drawn a loyal following of his own through a creative maelstrom of Pirates’ promotions and propaganda that have garnered him local and national media attention, flirtatious praise from MSNBC’s Erin Burnett, Facebook shoutouts from Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, and a Twitter entourage that includes Ronnie Magro from MTV’s Jersey Shore.  Recently I sat down with the creative mastermind to watch the gears spin…

 

1) When did you start following the Pirates, and what have both your highest and lowest moments been as a fan?

I remember watching the Pirates since I was 8 years old.  I remember Johnny Ray hitting a double on that electric green Three Rivers Stadium astroturf, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I’ve been really looking at the stats and studying the finer points of the game since college.  I’d say my highest moment was a few years ago when the Pirates beat the Cardinals 10-9 in extra innings (link to my game video here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOaKs6EZHqk).

The Pirates were down big going into the 8th, tied it in the 9th, went back down in the 10th, and won it in the bottom of the inning.  I was there with a huge group of like-minded Pirates fans from a message board called “Change In Atmosphere,” and believe me, the atmosphere after Jason Michaels hit the game winning home run was nothing short of amazing.  I can only hope that winning a playoff game would be as exciting.  As for my lowest moment, I’d go with the one most fans my age would go with – the loss in game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.  I cried a lot that night, and I’ve been crying inside while watching the Pirates ever since.

 

2) You became nationally known- with appearances on CNBC (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FazJXcm8Cs), ESPNEWS (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdNWbIzLFUM), and even Sports Illustrated’s iconic “By The Numbers” column (at right) when you came up with the novel idea to bet against the Pirates in each of their 162 games in 2010.  What was your bottom line result for people that don’t know, and what gave you the idea to do it?

I bet an average of $20 a game against the Pirates in every game of the season and won $324.34 – a 10% return on my investment.  I kept seeing the Pirates losing about 95 games for multiple years in a row, and I said to myself, “I wonder if I bet money against the Pirates in every game.  I bet I would make a bunch of money doing it!”  After doing a little research and seeing other people doing the same thing (see www.lolbaseball.com), I set out on my mission.  I made a spreadsheet documenting every bet and made a video series called “This Week In Real Pirateball” which the sports website Deadspin picked up on after a few weeks.  Every week I would update my progress and also give Pirates’ fans my take on how the team was playing.

 

3) Pirate fans know you well for your excellent “This Week in Real Pirate Baseball” segments on YouTube.  Take us through the process for preparing an episode.  How much production time do you invest?

TWIRP takes a VERY long time to produce.  I write, edit, record, and produce everything myself.  Normally on Thursday or Friday I start formulating ideas for the topics I want to discuss.  On Saturday I write up a script and work on all of the pictures and videos I add to spruce up the transitions between topics.  Last year I made a parody song for each video which was really fun.  I write up lyrics, record the audio, and do the video editing for it on Saturday as well.  As soon as the game on Sunday ends, I sit down and record the segments in front of my makeshift green screen (made out of $4 worth of gift wrap).  Once everything is recorded, I go into the painstaking editing process of making sure all the video segments are cut correctly and overlayed with the TWIRP rundown timeline.  If I had some better editing software and a better camera it would probably take less time, but with the setup I have, a 10 minute video takes me about 20-25 hours to produce.

 

4) Those of us who follow you on Twitter know that you’re very active not just for Pirates’ games, but Penguins’ and Steelers’ games as well.  How vital do you think social media like YouTube and Twitter are to sports fans of the 21st century, and do you have any new projects up your sleeve to further capitalize on it?

Social media is absolutely ubiquitous these days.  We live in the Internet Generation, and everyone born today will have been immersed in it for their entire lives.  With the boom in text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter that has occurred in the past few years, people have grown accustomed to reading what other people have to say about news in pop culture and sports instantly after it happens.  YouTube and reality TV have given everyone the idea that they can be a star if they have something innovative, insightful, or entertaining to share with the world.

I’m no exception to that.  I try to convey my style of scarcasm, comedy, and parody through Twitter and YouTube.  Hopefully people “get it,” and it’s always cool to hear people telling me that they enjoy what I have to say.  As of now, I’ll be sticking to Twitter and TWIRP, although my “non-Internet life” may end up getting in the way.  I’m thinking about condensing my videos in order to make it easier to captivate more viewers who may have shorter attention spans!

 

5)  What’s your overall assessment on the current state of the Pirates?  Do you think they can win with this ownership and management, or will it be a while until you can take the paper bag off your head during TWIRP?

The paper bag is a staple of a full week’s worth of Pirates losses on TWIRP!  Sadly, that won’t be going away any time soon.  Right now the Pirates seem to be doing all the right things for the future, but their strategy about the present continues to be awful.  I think it’s obvious that the Pirates’ minor league system has many more legitimate prospects that baseball “experts” would acknowledge as impact players for the future.  Still, they are several years away, and without proper development, these players may not live up to the hype.

Needs some help from his friends; Image credit sbnation

The major league team is a completely different animal.  As has been the case for over 10 years, the team has 2 or 3 impact players, but the rest of the team is mediocre to below average or completely unproven.  The management team continues to “dumpster dive” by signing past-their-prime vets which encompass half of their starting lineup.  This shows a real lack of depth in the system even after 4 years of “rebuilding.”  The major league payroll continues to be well below average, and no one knows for sure if the team will actually step up to the plate and lock down their young stars like Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.  Many would argue that a player like McCutchen doesn’t want to play here and that it takes “two to tango” as far as signing a new contract.  I really don’t like this argument because the Pirates have painted themselves into a corner by the perpetual losing and the continued use of the retread vet strategy.

At some point, the Pirates need to prove that they are willing to spend big money at the major league level in order to give them a chance at “the championships” (plural).  Bob Nutting committed a lot of money in the past few years to the draft which was great; that spending will need to transfer to the major league team soon if they want to win.  The stigmas of frugality and risk aversion that goes along with the Pirates’ ownership must change in order for current players, fans, and true impact free agents to give the Pirates any respect.

If the young pitchers and hitters in the low minors pan out, if the Pirates can keep their current core of talent in Pittsburgh for 4-5 more years, and if the Pirates can lure some truly useful free agents to round out the roster, the Pirates have a chance to win through the “small market” blueprint.  It’s still going to take a lot of work – and a lot of luck.

 

We may not be sure how the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2012 season will play out, but we can be sure Greg Mercer will make it as entertaining as possible.  And if the season’s anything like the last 19 in a row, we’ll need it!  Thanks for reading.

(Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug)