Once upon a time, there was a bad baseball team. The owner was almost universally hated, for he was seen as cheap and not willing to build a winning team. In came a new group, headed by a charismatic guy, who bought out the bad owner. The Charismatic One assumed the position of CEO and public face of the franchise’s management.
Everybody liked Charismatic Guy. He got some things done that were looked upon as excellent improvements and seemed willing to spend whatever he needed to make the team better. However, the team wasn’t winning. In the background, there were power struggles and money issues. Finally, Charismatic Guy was like “eff this, I’m out,” and walked away, to the surprise of many—but not all.
This is a very basic thumbnail of Kevin McClatchy’s time with the Pirates. If you were reading non-lockout baseball news the other day, you’d know that this also applies to Derek Jeter, who bailed out of his role as the Miami Marlins’ CEO and got the baseball world talking about something other than labor negotiations.
Of course, McClatchy and Jeter’s stories aren’t totally parallel, that’s not the point. If I wrote for a general baseball site, I could probably grind out two thousand words about how Jeter was ill-suited for the job for a variety of reasons. I may be one of the few people who followed the Yankees who never thought much of Jeter, even though I have, as the internet says, one weird connection to him. Again, that’s not the point.
The point is that every time I hear someone complain about Bob Nutting and what a terrible owner he is—and in this job, I hear it pretty frequently—my question is always “why?” Is he an awesome owner? No. Is he the baseball equivalent of Lord Voldemort? Also no. I get that McClatchy was a big part of getting PNC Park built. He promised that having PNC would go a long way towards the Pirates’ finally delivering a winning team.
The Pirates never had a winning season while McClatchy was owner/CEO. Not. One.
Nutting’s had three winning teams under his watch. He, not McClatchy, was at the helm of the Pirate Ship when the twenty-year losing record curse was finally broken. Yet everyone seems to love McClatchy and hate Nutting.
In my brief time in Pittsburgh, I have learned that many yinzers feel that certain problems are unique to this area when in truth they’re fairly common in other cities. This applies to baseball as well. Every time I hear someone complain about the Pirates letting Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow among others walk, I think of how the Marlins under two different owners blew up not one, but two World Series-winning teams. Not just getting rid of a player here and there. The whole team. Twice. When I lived in Richmond, Virginia, the Orioles were one of the local teams, and Peter Angelos, who is one of the few MLB owners more maligned than Nutting, regularly got rid of players right before the big free-agent payday arrived. This is not an uncommon move for small market teams. No, Pirates fans, you are not being particularly singled out for punishment.
Look, I like Cutch too, but he has declined significantly since his Pirate days. Cole got the big bucks from the Yankees, true, but the Yankees’ philosophy that anything less than a World Series win is a failure means pressure, and he choked in the playoffs, a major Yankees no-no. Even Jeter, the Captain, took a ton of crap for not performing in the playoffs before he managed to become Mr. November. The Rays, the team that Nutting and Ben Cherington would dearly love to emulate, have no compunctions about cheerfully chucking high-performing players who want more money in favor of cheaper talent. They do it, they’re being smart. Nutting does it, and he’s a cheap jerk who only cares about making money.
As we’re seeing with the lockout, the primary goal of MLB owners—indeed, any sort of CEO—is to get maximum results for minimal money. The players want to get paid, and as long as there are players racking up $35 million-plus a year on teams that don’t even sniff the playoffs, it’s going to be hard to get the cap genie back in the bottle.
Want to know how Nutting got his rep as a sucky owner? We have Jon Heyman, then with SI.com, to thank for that. Here’s a quote from him that ran on TribLive.com back in 2007:
“I felt a little bit bad about it, because he was just installed as the owner,” Heyman said. “But he was part of (Kevin McClatchy’s) group, and they didn’t do so well. That’s not a good sign. So I’m not going to feel too bad about it.”
This was less than a year after McClatchy’s departure.
But sure, go on about how everything is Nutting’s fault.