PITTSBURGH — Nothing ever seems to go smoothly when it comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even when it comes to something that should have been a feel-good moment for the franchise.
The Pirates held the induction ceremony for the 19 members of the inaugural class of the team’s Hall of Fame at PNC Park on Saturday afternoon. It did not go smoothly.
On the riverwalk outside the ballpark, a man who identified himself as Will Parker Jr. continually shouted into a bullhorn throughout most of the festivities. Parker Jr. kept saying he wanted to ask Pirates owner Bob Nutting why he does nothing for the Black community in Pittsburgh.
I have no idea if Parker Jr. had a legitimate beef or not. Nutting has been called a lot of unflattering things over the years, but racist hasn’t been one of them.
The Pirates gave the largest contract in club history to third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes in April, an eight-year, $70-million deal. Hayes is Black.
Among the former Pirates inducted into the Hall of Fame were two Black men in Dave Parker and Willie Stargell.
Also inducted were four Negro League players: Ray Brown, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. All played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords or Homestead Grays.
The Pirates also gave honorary contracts to each of the four players. Love or hate Nutting and the way he runs his ballclub, it was certainly a good-hearted gesture.
“The Negro Leagues were such an important part of baseball history,” Nutting said. “I think it’s our responsibility to celebrate that legacy. Those were also some of the greatest players of any era and any league. They were fantastic, incredible athletes, and they deserve to be celebrated right along with our players.
“Formally welcoming them into the Pirate family felt like the right thing to do, and I am really glad we did that.”
Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said the team offered Parker Jr. the opportunity to meet with Nutting after the ceremony, but Parker Jr. declined.
Nutting claimed he did not hear the protester. That was hard to believe, because everyone attending the ceremony could hear Parker Jr.
“I think today’s about these guys,” Nutting said of the inductees. “I really don’t think we want to distract with the other stories.”
It’s sad the protester detracted from what should have been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal Pirates’ season. With Friday night’s 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Pirates clinched their fourth straight losing season and 31st sub-.500 finish in the last 39 years.
Saturday was supposed to be a time to celebrate the past rather than lament the present.
The Pirates did their best by honoring some of the greatest players in club history. The three living members of that group – Steve Blass, Bill Mazeroski and Dave Parker – were on hand for the ceremony.
“It’s absolutely important for anybody, young or old, to be aware of the history of the franchise,” Blass said. “This is one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball.
“Yeah, there are some struggles right now. People ask me all the time, ‘what do you think about the Pirates?’ I root for the Pirates. It’s my hometown team. It’s not just that I played for them. I live here. If you live in Pittsburgh and you care about baseball, you should be aware of the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
The Pirates finally took a significant step in the direction of making people aware Saturday, though the Hall of Fame should have been launched many years ago. Even if they had to shout over a protester to do it.