Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield has absorbed a lot of heat for his decision to release Chris Shelton, who has made himself an unlikely early-season candidate for Triple Crown honors. Yet, another Littlefield castoff has also emerged as a spring sensation, albeit without the fanfare of Shelton. Ty Wigginton, who was released by the Pirates last December, has hit eight home runs for the Devil Rays, as he battles Jonny Gomes for the team lead and Shelton for the league lead in the all-important power category. Wigginton has emerged as Tampa Bay’s regular third baseman, giving them acceptable defense at the hot corner, while also giving manager Joe Madden a flexible backup to Jorge Cantu at second base and Travis Lee at first base.
Originally acquired from the Mets as part of the trade package for Kris Benson, Wigginton upset the Pirates with his attitude last summer. After struggling to hit as the team’s regular third baseman, the Bucs benched him, a move that upset Wigginton, whose attitude turned sour as a utility man. During the offseason, the Pirates released Wigginton to make room for free agent signing Joe "The Joker" Randa, who is now Pittsburgh’s starting third baseman.
Who would Pirates fans rather have now, the aging Randa or the still youthful—and productive—Wigginton? Pirates management would probably argue that Wigginton left them no choice, but it doesn’t look good when a player you released has hit eight home runs before April has come and gone. If Wigginton keeps up the production for the Devil Rays, he’s liable to become as popular as Ty Pennington—at least in Tampa Bay. And that’s only going to make Dave Littlefield even less popular in Pittsburgh.
And here is this week’s trivia question on the 1971 Pirates, who are the subject of my new book, The Team That Changed Baseball. Which member of the ’71 Pirates sang the National Anthem during the 1973 World Series?