The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik, skeptical of reports that Jim Tracy can walk on water, has had his fill of criticism of the Pirates’ previous manager.

Poor Lloyd McClendon. He has been thrown under the bus so many times by the media and his former Pirates players that his features are barely distinguishable amid all the tread marks.

It started earlier this winter when, in an interview with Tim Benz of ESPN Radio, Zach Duke was critical of McClendon’s communication skills. Say what? Duke was 8-2 with a 1.81 earned run average as a rookie last season. The only thing McClendon needed to say to him was this: “Here’s the ball,” which he did just about every five days.

The message coming out of Bradenton so far has been somewhat more subtle but nevertheless disparaging toward McClendon. Everything about spring training is better. The drills are crisper, the players happier, the teaching more passionate. With all the adulation being directed toward Jim Tracy, McClendon’s replacement, and new pitching coach Jim Colborn it seems as if the only thing that stood between the Pirates and respectability was Mac.

Funny, I thought the reason the Pirates finished tied for the worst record in the National League was because they finished 12th or lower (out of 16) in the following offensive categories: runs, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks and pinch-hitting batting average. I also thought it was because they finished 12th or lower in the following pitching categories: ERA, walks and hits per inning, strikeouts-to-walks ratio and opposing batting average.

Usually, when a team is so deficient in so many areas, it will find a way to the bottom without any help from the manager.

Though Smizik makes a good general point or two, McClendon’s record of 336-449 between ’01 and ’05 is the sort that might have any new manager looking good by comparision. Though McClendon surely wasn’t the only person responsible for the club’s stranglehold on last place, along with Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield, he’s pretty high on the list.