Mehno: Walker deserves share of blame

PITTSBURGH — Baseball players are funny.

That’s not just by the “give him a hot foot” or “whap the star of the game with a shaving cream pie while he’s being interviewed on TV” definition of funny, either.

Major league players get to the major leagues in part with a self-centeredness that allows them to overcome the obstacles inevitably in their path.

That insulation can create a false reality that sometimes spills over into other areas.

Case in point came last week when Neil Walker met with reporters after signing with the New York Yankees.

A few of the questions centered on his tenure with the Pirates, the organization that drafted him and where he played his first 836 major league games.

The Pirates traded Walker after the 2015 season, believing that his age, injury history and limited range at second base disqualified him from being offered a long-term contract as free agency approached.

The Yankees are his third team in the three seasons since he left Pittsburgh.

He was part of the three postseason teams from 2013-15 that finally broke the Pirates’ 20-year losing streak.

The Pirates won the wild-card game in 2013, then lost a five-game series against St. Louis. They couldn’t get past the wild-card round in the other two seasons.

Walker told reporters the Pirates were “a few pieces away from being a legitimate contender” in those years. He seemed to suggest the front office let the team down by not adding more talent.

“We felt internally we had the pieces to go where we needed to go,” Walker said. “But sometimes that extra starter, sometimes that extra big bat in the middle of the lineup could make a big difference.”

Maybe additions could have made a difference, but who knows? Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arietta were pretty much untouchable in the two wild-card games the Pirates lost.

As far as a big bat, maybe things would have been different if Walker had swung one. In the series against St. Louis, he was 0-for-19. Then he was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against San Francisco and 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Chicago.

If he makes the playoffs with the Yankees, he’ll lug an 0-for-26 postseason drought into his first game.

Earlier, David Freese suggested that the 2017 Pirates could have/should have done better than their 75-87 record and fourth-place finish. He blamed the “atmosphere,” choosing apparently to throw Clint Hurdle under the bus.

“The demand to win just hasn’t been in the air,” Freese said.

It’s hard to imagine that a team able to find 302 plate appearances for John Jaso was equipped to battle the elite teams on even terms, but whatever.

At one point, Freese believed playing David Freese too often was a problem. He supposedly told Hurdle during the season that he was struggling with a workload heavier than he expected at age 34.

Teams disappoint every year, but it’s rare that players look in the mirror for the reason why. They’re funny that way.

At last

The one shining moment came in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Ladies and gentlemen, a 16th seed has finally beaten a No. 1.

There wasn’t anything odd about Maryland-Baltimore County’s win over Virginia other than the outcome.

Your chance

Speaking of winning against the odds, the annual Guess How Many Games The Pirates Will Win contest opens at 10 a.m. on Monday.

Full details are available at my “Mainly Mehno” blog at altoonamirror.com, but here’s the short version: You e-mail me two predictions — the number of games you think the Pirates will win this season and (the tiebreaker) the number of home runs you think they’ll hit. Last season they won 75 games and hit 151 home runs. Email address is right here.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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