The Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star center fielder looked across the massive ballroom at the Dapper Dan Awards — think Pittsburgh’s version of the ESPYs — while accepting the 2012 Sportsman of the Year honor in January and cleared his throat.
“I don’t do this a lot,” McCutchen said.
Maybe, but he better get used to it. It kind of comes with the territory when you become the face of a franchise, particularly one in desperate need of a karmic turnaround.
It wasn’t always this way. Some of the greatest players in the history of the game have worn Pittsburgh’s black-and-gold. Roberto Clemente. Honus Wagner. Willie Stargell. Barry Bonds.
There have been a few potential successors since Bonds abandoned Pittsburgh following the 1992 season, though things have never quite worked out. All-Stars such as Jason Kendall, Jason Bay and others left the Steel City for better paychecks elsewhere.
But Pittsburgh management insists the days of being a farm system for teams with deeper pockets are over. Perhaps more important, McCutchen feels the same. That’s why he agreed to a six-year, $51 million contract extension last spring.
Though he played football and ran track as a kid growing up in Fort Meade, Fla., baseball took hold early and has not let go.
There are few things in baseball quite as breathtaking as McCutchen trying to stretch a hit for extra bases or chase down a ball in the quirky outfield at his home park.
McCutchen understands his importance to a franchise trying to end two decades of losing. He doesn’t feel, however, that his role has to change to help make that happen. He’s not one to throw things or call a team meeting. He never has been. That’s not going to change no matter how many zeroes are on his paycheck.
“I’m not a real rah-rah guy that’s going to raise my voice,” McCutchen said. “However, if something needs to be said, I’m willing to stand up and say it. I feel I’ve reached the point in my career where I can do that.”
And make no mistake, McCutchen is serious about returning Pittsburgh to the postseason.
“He’s going to do everything in his power to make this franchise as successful as it can be,” owner Bob Nutting said.
“The way I look at it, people are going to notice you for one of two reasons: if you do something good or you do something bad,” McCutchen said. “At least, they’re noticing me for doing something good.”