He’s the most beloved Pittsburgh Pirates player since Willie Stargell.
And this season, he’s going to wear a San Francisco Giants uniform.
The trade of Andrew McCutchen to the Giants last week jarred the Pirates’ fan base, which adored “Cutch” in the way Pirates fans loved “Pops” four decades ago.
How could Pittsburghers not have a Cutch Crush?
They watched him blossom from a young, raw talent into an MVP who led the team back to the playoffs. He did it all with hustle and class.
The Pirates drafted him out of Florida’s Fort Meade High School in the first round of the 2005 draft. Early in the 2009 season, he made his much anticipated big league debut.
He hit leadoff that day and lined a single up the middle in his first at-bat. He finished the game 2-for-4 with three runs, an RBI and a stolen base in the Pirates’ 11-6 win over the New York Mets.
It was a fitting start to a brilliant Pirates career. From that moment on, Bucs fans have cherished their superstar.
He was the 2013 National League MVP and placed third in the MVP voting in 2012 and 2014.
Beyond the awards and statistics, McCutchen was a joy to watch as he roamed center field at PNC Park. He had fun on the field, and that made him a fan favorite.
As much as Pittsburgh loved him, McCutchen loved Pittsburgh right back.
He constantly spoke of his goal of bringing a World Series title to the Burgh. When it appeared the Pirates might trade him after a tough 2016 season, he wrote an open letter headlined “Dear Pittsburgh” on The Players’ Tribune website.
“From the time I got called up in 2009, I’ve never pictured myself wearing anything but a Pirates uniform,” he wrote.
He recalled having an apartment in downtown Pittsburgh across from PNC Park as a young player: “Sometimes I’d walk to work — like for Sunday day games, or fireworks night — I’d walk right over the Roberto Clemente Bridge, among my fellow Yinzers.”
“Fellow Yinzers.” If there’s anything Pittsburgh fans value over talent and titles, it’s loyalty.
It was clear that McCutchen had bought into the Burgh and had become a true Pittsburgher. McCutchen and his wife even named their son “Steel” for goodness sake. You can’t be more Pittsburgh Dad than that, and the fans embraced him for it.
So when the Pirates announced their trade of McCutchen to the Giants, it didn’t really matter what the team received in return. The fans had wanted to see him retire in Black and Gold with a World Series ring, the same way Stargell had been adoringly sent off in 1982.
Another superstar left the Pirates for the Giants in 1993, but that was different. Pittsburgh never loved Barry Bonds. The franchise treasured his ability and his stats and the playoff runs that came with them. But Bonds was aloof and indifferent, and fans knew it was only a matter of time before he left for mega-money and the West Coast lifestyle.
McCutchen gave his heart to Pittsburgh for nine seasons, and he wanted to stay in the Steel City and be a career Pirate.
The Pirates began their purge of salary and stars a few days earlier when they traded ace Gerrit Cole to the World Series champion Houston Astros.
Ironically, the Pirates did so with the Astros’ blueprint in mind. Houston went through a complete rebuild, traded veterans for prospects and eventually won a title.
After Cole was traded, he took a not-so-subtle shot at the Pirates’ front office.
“It’s refreshing to come to an environment where the team is willing to continually put resources into the club and continue to move forward and try to provide the best possible product for its fans,” he said.
The Pirates’ front-office people might believe that’s what they’re doing and that they’re the Astros 2.0 edition.
However, team management should brace itself for a long 2018 season. The Pirates’ beloved star is now 2,500 miles away, and playoff contention seems even more distant.
If the Pirates somehow win a title because of these moves in 2022, maybe that would soften the blow of trading No. 22.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh fans turn their back on the team this year the way the front office turned its back on Cutch.