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A Career Retrospective Following This Former MVP’s 300th Home Run

With his 300th career home run last Sunday, Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen joined a select fraternity. He became one of 13 players in Major League Baseball history to record at least 2,000 hits, 300 home runs, 400 doubles, 45 triples, and 200 stolen bases. Among others on the list are Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. Eight players on the list are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

McCutchen is easily the most beloved Pirate since Willie Stargell. He almost seems too good to be true. Of course, since Stargell, the Pirates have had other superstars in Dave Parker, Barry Bonds, and Andy Van Slyke. All produced in big ways on the diamond as Pirates. But where Parker was controversial and got caught up in the baseball cocaine scandal, McCutchen avoided controversy. Where Bonds was surly, groused about his salary, and stated his desire to leave Pittsburgh, McCutchen was pleasant, embraced the town, interacted with fans, was active in the community, and signed a team-favorable contract to stay in Pittsburgh. Van Slyke came across as funny and loveable as long as the TV cameras were nearby. Otherwise, not so much.

A Career Retrospective on Pirates Star Andrew McCutchen

Poetry in Motion

“Cutch” was the Pirates’ No. 1 pick (11th overall) in the 2005 June Amateur Draft out of high school. Then-Pirates general manager David Littlefield declared that McCutchen had an “exciting” bat and would play an above-average center field. Yet the pick was met with skepticism by some baseball experts. Some questioned his size. McCutchen was listed at five-foot-eleven, 170 pounds. (Today he’s listed at five-foot-ten, 190 pounds.) Others noted that he played high school ball in Fort Meade, Florida, a town with a population of about 5,000. The 18-year-old McCutchen stated that he wrote poetry and sang in the choir at the church where his father was minister. He read one of his poems at his introductory press conference.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as they used to say on Seinfeld. However, it was atypical of most ballplayers. Would he be tough enough? Furthermore, there were rumblings about town that the Pirates had released Bronson Arroyo in 2003 because he played the guitar. How would they feel about a poet and a singer? Most of all for Pirates fans, the Littlefield regime was marred by bad trades, poor drafts, and a lack of any clear vision. After all, this was the guy who used the first overall pick in the 2002 draft on Bryan Bullington and proclaimed him a No. 3 starter. Yet the choice of future star McCutchen might be the only thing that Littlefield did right during his Pirates tenure.

A Star is Born

McCutchen made his Pirates debut on June 4, 2009, against the New York Mets at PNC Park. The Pirates had a new general manager in Neal Huntington. The news of McCutchen’s recall was not greeted enthusiastically by the players, to say the least. To make room for him, Huntington traded the popular Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves. In 2008, McLouth hit .276/.356/.497 with 26 HR and 94 RBI, was an All-Star, and won a Gold Glove Award for his play in center field. Manager John Russell met with the players, individually or in groups, saying he understood their disappointment but wouldn’t tolerate much. They’d have to get over it.

McCutchen, greeted warmly by the fans, quickly won his teammates over, too. He batted leadoff in the Pirates’ 11-6 victory and recorded several firsts, with two singles, a walk, a stolen base, and three runs scored in five plate appearances.

Anybody who wasn’t convinced became a believer on August 1, 2009. That was the day Cutch had the best game of his career. At home against the Washington Nationals, he was 4-for-5 with 3 HR and 6 RBI in another 11-6 win. By the game’s end, the 22-year-old was hitting .293, third among National League rookies. His teammates raved about his talent to the press. They were over it. Nobody was talking about McLouth anymore.

New Contract and an MVP Award for Pirates Star McCutchen

After making his first of five consecutive All-Star teams in 2011, the Pirates decided to tie up their star and extend McCutchen beyond his free agency years. During spring training of 2012, the Bucs signed Cutch to a six-year, $51.5 million contract with a $14.75 team option for 2018. The deal was comparable to one signed by Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks at the time. Nobody could accuse the Pirates of being cheap this time.

However, it would turn out to be a bargain for the Pirates. In 2012, McCutchen led the NL with 194 hits. In 2013, the Bucs ended a 20-year losing skein and made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. McCutchen hit .317/.404/.508 with 21 HR and 84 RBI for an OPS+ of 157. For his efforts, he became the sixth Pirate to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award, joining Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, Parker, Stargell, and Bonds. At the PNC Park press conference announcing the award, McCutchen said, “I’m floating right now.” He humbly acknowledged that he didn’t expect to win in a landslide like he did.

In 2014, McCutchen led the NL with a .410 OBP, .952 OPS, and 166 OPS+. From 2011 to 2015, he hit .302/.396/.509 with 123 HR and 448 RBI. During that period, he was an All-Star all five years, and in addition to the MVP Award, he won a Gold Glove and four Silver Sluggers.

The Trade

Over 2016-17, McCutchen produced a more mortal-like .267/.349/.457 with 52 HR and 167 RBI. A decision on the club option loomed. Huntington decided to trade McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants for Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick before the 2018 season. Since 2020, Reynolds has arguably been the Pirates’ best player. But he’s never been the superstar that Cutch was in his prime. Once again, the Pirates would suffer some backlash for trading a star, this time McCutchen.

McCutchen would play for four teams from 2018-22. He never looked right in any of those uniforms. Not as a Giant. Losing to them in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game was still too fresh in Pirates fans’ minds. Now he was going to be pals with Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Crawford. Not as a clean-shaven Yankee, either. He looked as out of place as Joe Namath did in the uniform of the Los Angeles Rams. Certainly not with the Phillies or Brewers, fierce rivals under various divisional alignments.

The Return

The unexpected happened in January 2023 when McCutchen texted Pirates owner Bob Nutting and said he wanted to return home. McCutchen’s wife is a Pittsburgh native, and he and his family make their home there. The result was a one-year, $5 million contract. The sides did a similar deal for 2024. Primarily as a designated hitter, McCutchen reached some career milestones as a Pirate for the second time. There were his 2,000th hit and 400th double in 2023.

Pirates Star McCutchen Hits Home Run No. 300

Then there was his 300th homer on Sunday after McCutchen began the season sitting on 299. The Pirates were leading the Phillies in Philadelphia, 7-2, in the ninth inning. With a man on base and one out, McCutchen stepped in against Ricardo Pinto and launched a 2-2 pitch deep into the left-field stands. He couldn’t hide his relief.

The Last Word

Time will tell how many more great moments will star McCutchen in a Pirates uniform. It’s early, but so far he’s 9-for-43. The Pirates outfield has been a rotation of Reynolds, Michael A. Taylor, Jack Suwinski, Edward Olivares, and Connor Joe, based on matchups. When Olivares and Joe haven’t played the field, they’ve been better options at designated hitter than McCutchen. Even so, if the Pirates reach their goal of contending for a playoff spot, McCutchen’s experience will be invaluable. Don’t be surprised if he makes some more memories before it’s all over.


Photo Credit: © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports


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