On Gregory Polanco and Ben Cherington’s Quote

By Joe Smeltzer

I thought the Pirates fired Neal Huntington last winter.  

They probably did. But Ben Cherington’s quote earlier this week made it feel like the ghost of GMNH still floats around Allegheny County.  

Maybe Cherington, for some reason, wanted to pay tribute to his predecessor by giving reporters an idiotic sound byte. Maybe Huntington snuck into Cherington’s brain, like Plankton did to Spongebob Squarepants in the episode Plankton! and spoke the words “He [Gregory Polanco] is still really young.”  

This is all an exaggeration, of course. But Cherington’s words brought about flashbacks of some Huntington sound bytes that this city would like to suppress.  

Part of the reason Huntington fell out of favor in this city was because it seemed like he never knew the right things to say. Sure, trading for Chris Archer didn’t help, either. But when it came to “playing the game” with reporters, Huntington almost always lost, and sometimes got mercy ruled.  

Some of NH’s greatest hits include; 

“If you run 10,000 simulations on teams that are supposed to be a .500 team, eight times would you run into a 4-24 stretch.” 

“We have the ninth-best record in baseball over the last six years.” 

And my personal favorite:

“In hindsight, maybe the two fringe prospects and trying to reallocate the money [Neil Walker’s salary] might’ve been a better return.” 

He made the last comment while the player the Pirates got for Walker, Jon Niese, was still on the roster. 

The main point of this article isn’t to bash Huntington, but rather call his replacement out for being a klutz.  

For general managers across sports, telling little white lies here in there is part of the job. I can write an article called “Top 50 reasons why Gregory Polanco is bad” and suffer zero consequences. Cherington can’t do that.  

When Cherington is asked about Polanco, he theoretically could call him out for not performing, refer to him as an underachiever or even bring up his strikeout rate, which is above 40%. But it would be a terrible idea. As long as Polanco is still under contract, it’s understood that team officials, especially the general manager, should defend a struggling player when having to publicly address the topic. So a quote like this would not have worked.  

“Gregory has to be better. He strikes out too much and he doesn’t hit enough home runs to make up for it. He’s been here for six years, and honestly, what has he shown us? He needs to be better all the way around.” 

Here’s what Cherington should have said, and what I would have said if I had been in that situation. Keep in mind that Polanco’s poor performance— he is 0-for-6 with four strikeouts since Cherington’s comments— has been near the top of a long list of Bucco shortcomings, so it’s a topic that Cherington should be prepared to address at all times.  

“We understand Gregory hasn’t gotten the results that we or anybody else in this organization have wanted. Nobody is more frustrated by that than Gregory. We know what the numbers say, but we also know the talent that this kid has. Gregory isn’t giving up, and we aren’t ready to give up on him.” 

This wouldn’t have been entirely truthful, as the chances of Polanco ever being a star are slim, if not zero. But if Cherington said something like this, he wouldn’t have trashed his right fielder, and he wouldn’t have sounded like a jackass. How difficult would that have been? 

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