Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Hey, maybe the Pirates can sign Bryce Harper.

He’s a free agent, who’s averaged 32 home runs, 91 RBI with a .900 OPS since coming into the league at age 19 and he’s only 26. All the Pirates need to do is outbid the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and maybe Harper’s former team, the Washington Nationals.

Harper wouldn’t cost them any more than, say, $375 million over 12 years. The Nutting family is rich and they owe it to their fans to cough up some cash. Those other teams play in huge TV markets and the Pirates play in a puny one, but, come on, no excuses.

And if the bid for Harper falls short, there’s always Manny Machado. He also came into the league at 19 and he’s averaged 31 home runs and 90 RBI with an .888 OP for Baltimore and he is a Gold Glove third baseman. He might come a little cheaper than Harper, right around $350 million. The Dodgers got him from the Baltimore Orioles as a rental this season and they will try to keep him, but, come on Nuttings, cough it up. No excuses about being in a smaller TV market. You’re rich and you can afford it.

I know.

Fat chance.

We’re talking about Major League Baseball, a sport that excludes teams like the Pirates from getting the superstar free agents. Harper and Machado will end up in a top 5 or top 6 TV market. That’s where the superstars go. It’s where Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Willie Stargell would have ended up if free agency had come along in 1966 instead of 1976.

And there would be no statues at PNC Park.

If you’re keeping score, the top six markets are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Francisco. Boston is down there at No. 9 but the Red Sox seem to be able to compete with the guys at the top. Of course, there are six teams in the top three markets.

Eight of the last 10 World Series winners have come from the top 6. Sixteen of the last 20. The Kansas City Royals caught lightning in a bottle and sneaked in there somehow and so did the St. Louis Cardinals, both of whom play in smaller markets than the Pirates, but the Cardinals’ huge footprint in the Midwest makes them a top 10 revenue team that can compete with the big boys. Their radio network covers eight states.

But it’s not just about winning. We’ve seen examples of teams that have been able to overcome the stupid revenue disparity. Of course, they usually end up like the Royals, who couldn’t keep it together and lost 104 games this season – three years after winning the World Series.

They probably won’t be involved in the bidding for Harper and Machado. The top-sixers will be waiting for the Royals to develop a superstar who they can sign when he becomes too expensive for Kansas City.

It’s about baseball fans in so many cities having no chance of seeing their team bring in a superstar. And it’s about so many fans in so many cities knowing that, if their team gets lucky and develops a superstar, he won’t finish his career there.

Imagine the Penguins trying to keep Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin if they became free agents under MLB’s system.

How about the Steelers keeping Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown?

Yep, it’s that time of year again. When baseball fans in several cities are reminded that they’re not going to be included in the postseason fun and there’s a good chance that their favorite player will be headed for the top 6 or top 10.

And there’s no reason to believe the stupidity will ever end.

The good news is that Major League Baseball continues to lose fans. Attendance was way down this season and the World Series TV ratings were embarrassing. The commissioner, Rob Manfred, was perplexed and said he was trying to figure out why. Maybe fans in flyover country are starting to catch on. Maybe they know that big games and big name players are rarely part of the program for their teams.

The games are taking forever. Managers falling in love with their bullpens might have something to do with it. The average game took three hours and four minutes this year. The Red Sox and Dodgers led the Major Leagues at 3:13.

Maybe fans aren’t turned on by all those statistics that pressbox geeks like to tell them matter so much.

  • Clayton Kershaw re-upped with the Dodgers for three more years and $93 million. Can you, in your wildest dreams, ever imagine the Pirates guaranteeing any player $93 million for three years?
  • Here’s hoping Machado and Harper end up signing with the same team.
  • Videos of at least two fights between drunken men dressed as boys at the San Francisco 49ers-Oakland Raiders game Thursday night went viral. It happens every time they play each other. Both teams would be doing their normal fans a favor by not allowing anyone to wear a visiting team’s jersey to their games. The videos continue to provide evidence that too many American men need to grow up.

John Steigerwald writes a weekly column for the Observer-Reporter.

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