Don't look now, but Smizik grew a uccello and decided to speak up even though he's about six years late.....
Bob Smizik: Pirates' ownership not likely to change fiscal ways
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Listen carefully to Bob Nutting, the principal owner of the Pirates, and you can see the future of the franchise. Sadly, it's no different than the present or the recent past. A lack of commitment permeates this organization. It starts at the top, and there is no indication it is about to change. Major League Baseball is the only one of the four main professional leagues in this country that does not have a salary cap. That means, beyond doubt, the quickest path to success is by spending money on payroll. Strong scouting and player development can diminish but not eliminate the advantage of larger payroll. Of course, there's no indication the Pirates' scouting and player development is anything better than mediocre. Consequently, what you see is what you get.
Since Kevin McClatchy bought the team, with a group that included G. Ogden Nutting (Bob Nutting's father) as a principal financier, in 1996, the Pirates have been last in payroll in their division nine times in 12 years. Twice, they have been next to last and once, in 2001, they were fourth in a six-team division.
That's not going to get it done. Nor is it going to change.
At his first news conference as principal owner Nutting categorically denied ownership was putting profit in its pocket.
"The ownership group is not taking money out of the team and putting it in their pockets," he said. "We are not moving profits."
McClatchy supported that statement. He said, "We are not paying ourselves dividends and we're reinvesting every penny that we've made back into the club."
Sounds good, and we believe them. But where is the money going?
We know it's not going to payroll. The team's payroll is a distant last in the Central Division. Three of the Central teams have double the payroll of the Pirates. With the team's books closed to the public, it is anyone's guess where the profit is going. Here's ours:
The profit is going to pay down debt, which the team incurred in the building of PNC Park and in the early days of ownership. By paying down debt, they increase the value of the franchise. Which is to say, the money is not going in Nutting's pocket -- yet.
At that same news conference, Nutting famously said,
"Questioning my commitment or my family's commitment to winning, I think that's completely inappropriate."
Sounds good, but vague. Anyone can have a commitment to winning. But what is the level of that commitment?
Judging from the team's failure earlier this month to draft Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, widely regarded as the player who could most quickly help the Pirates, the commitment is a weak one. Wieters, a client of agent Scott Boras, would have demanded a considerably higher signing bonus than Daniel Moskos, the Pirates' pick.
Again, let's listen to Nutting:
"It is important to remember that the draft is relatively unsure. It's high risk. "
The key phrase in that comment is "high risk." Nutting wants no part of risk. He wants stability. Stability is good if you're a team that has a quality roster, a high payroll and a strong farm system. The Pirates have none of those. The Pirates need to take risks. They need to think outside the box. They need not stop taking pitchers in the draft when they have a crying need for position players.
They need to think like the Detroit Tigers, a franchise that early in 2004 was considerably worse than the Pirates. The Tigers had lost 225 games in the previous two seasons. It was the third time they had lost more than 100 games since 1996. They Pirates never have lost more than 100 in their current 14-year losing streak.
Detroit ownership understood it had to take risks to get better. It could not continue on the same path. The Tigers signed catcher Ivan Rodriquez to a four-year, $40 million contract early in 2004 when no other team would pay that price for a player who was in decline. With Rodriquez on the team, the Tigers went from 43 wins to 72, an incredible turnaround. The next off-season, they signed Magglio Ordonez, another player believed to be in decline, to a five-year contract that could pay up to $75 million.
The Tigers went high risk, and two years later they were in the World Series. This year they are in second place in the American League Central, 11 games over .500, and Ordonez has 64 RBIs, second in the American League.
That's the kind of risk Nutting would never take, which is why the Pirates will never make the kind of improvement the Tigers did.
One more comment from Nutting.
The day last January when he replaced McClatchy as the team's principal owner, he said, "There's really no change in how we're doing business."
Very true and very sad.
And then Bob had to say this.......
Between Cook, Steigerwald (grills them) and Kovacevic they have been the most vocal in this city when it comes to the Pirates pathetic display of ownership. They have actually been putting heat on these guys for some time now. They didn't just start this season......
Ron Cook: Front office should be accountable
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Is it just me or have the Pirates finally stumbled on to an amazing concept after all of these losing years?
I know, I'm struggling to believe it, too.
But accountability seems to be exactly what manager Jim Tracy is starting to demand these days.
We saw it when he took Tony Armas out of the starting rotation, when he demoted Salomon Torres from closer to setup man, when he benched Chris Duffy and Ronny Paulino for brief periods and when he discarded relievers Marty McLeary, Brian Rogers and Josh Sharpless after a quick look. Most significantly, we saw it last week when Tracy benched Jack Wilson, the team's highest-paid player and a sizable presence in the clubhouse.
I'm thinking it was one of this laughable franchise's better weeks in years.
Make no mistake, the other players noticed the Wilson benching. How could they not notice? It was easy to read minds. If this can happen to Jack, it can happen to anyone. Maybe I better start paying a little more attention to detail ...
I'm not suggesting that necessarily had a lot to do with the Pirates' 4-2 homestand last week or that the wins were the result of anything more than the perfect timing that goes with playing the woeful Texas Rangers and the woeful Chicago White Sox in consecutive series.
I'm just saying that's the way you run a team, making players accountable, making them have to perform to keep their starting spots.
Too bad the front office doesn't operate that way.
For too long, lousy ownership -- the worst in all of sports, actually -- has been the Pirates' main problem. The franchise either didn't have enough money to compete or, as appears to be the case now, puts too much into the owners' pockets and not enough into the product. On those rare occasions when money was spent on payroll, horrible decisions were made, notably the Jason Kendall signing, which set the organization back for years. Many more poor business decisions were made that negated what should have been a lucrative move into PNC Park in 2001, then negated the momentum that should have been generated by the second-chance lifeline that was the 2006 All-Star Game.
But the worst thing is no one cares.
It's hard to say Kevin McClatchy demanded accountability. He stuck with general manager Cam Bonifay for almost eight years even though Bonifay didn't produce one winning season. Nothing much has changed with Robert Nutting as boss. General manager Dave Littlefield is approaching his six-year anniversary with the team and hasn't come close to winning, either.
Some teams would have fired Littlefield after the '05 season. Not the Pirates. They gave him a one-year contract extension through '08. A lot more teams would have fired Littlefield after the '06 season when he threw away $17.5 million on Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey and Roberto Hernandez and the team was 30-60 at the All-Star break, a record that didn't add much to the atmosphere for the big All-Star party at PNC Park. Now, a 15th consecutive losing season is inevitable.
It's bad enough that Littlefield still is calling the shots. What's worse is there doesn't appear to be the least bit of heat on him from management. Asked point-blank a month ago if he was concerned about his job, Littlefield seemed incredulous. "I think we've got a good plan in place and we're making strides. I actually feel encouraged where we're at and where we're going."
The Pirates were 15-20 at the time. They are 30-39 now. It doesn't look like they're headed toward much of a destination spot this summer.
Littlefield talked of the improvement the Pirates have made since last season. That's ridiculous. How do you not improve on a 30-60 start? And is that really anything to be proud of? He talked of the significance of having four young homegrown starting pitchers, the only team in baseball that can make that claim. He talked of having all his key players signed or their rights secured for the next three seasons, some for four or five seasons.
"This is the first time we've had players like this," Littlefield said. "We have a group together for the first time that I believe can grow together. Look out on the field. The evidence is out there."
A month later, I still don't see it.
All I see is a team that's way short and a front office that doesn't care.
It's one thing for Tracy to demand accountability from the players.
I'd rather see Nutting demand it from Littlefield.
the good news is the pirate mascott seems to have breathed life into the franchise.
the bad news is the red sox and yankees have taken notice and are offering to trade one of babe ruths old sox and a bat boy for him.
the pirates are either going to jump on this "great deal" or make the parrot the highest paid "player" on the team (a la jason kendall).
lets go bucs!
We already ruined our other mascot (that freaky looking Pirate) in the Macscot Minor Leagues. Blew out his arm. But I hear we are working with him. We are now attempting to change his style (ala Duke and Duffy).
Even those these protests never work (ask Lion fans), it's good to see some fans are tired of this circus we call a MLB franchise. Eitherway, if your tired of ownership and you continue to give them money I don't see how things are going to change. Good luck.
Tired of losing, Pirates fans plot protest
By Karen Price
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Some angry Pirates fans are hoping a protest June 30 at PNC Park doesn't fall on deaf ears.
Andy Chomos and Sean Lucas are two of the organizers behind Fans for Change, a grass-roots campaign aimed at recent decisions by team management.
The protest will consist of a pregame rally and petition-signing on Federal Street from 5-7 p.m. During the game against the Washington Nationals, protesters will leave their seats after the third inning and will have the option of staying in the concourse until the fifth inning or leaving the ballpark.
Chomos, a 43-year-old business owner from Wexford, wants fans to wear green shirts, to symbolize money leaving the building.
"We want to demonstrate that we're not satisfied with the product on the field, with the general manager's moves and ownership's not committing to producing a winner," he said.
The movement started about 10 days ago when Lucas, a Master of Business Administration student at Duquesne, sent a letter to local media outlets. The letter was reported by a TV station and later made its way to the Internet. Through blogs and message boards, the idea for the protest gained shape.
"The goal is to give upset fans, fed-up fans, an outlet to voice their opinion publicly for the first time in 14 years of losing baseball," said Lucas, 25, of the North Hills.
A Pirates spokesman said the team has no comment on the protest.
Chomos said he's gotten 7,000 e-mail responses about the protest. Lucas said his group passed out flyers during the Pirates' most recent home series and talked to 1,500 fans.
"Ninety-nine percent loved the idea," Lucas said. "Whether they'll come, that's their decision. But people loved the idea."
Chomos has heard the skeptics who believe the protest will accomplish nothing. The sentiment there, he said, is that unhappy fans can best make their feelings known by not showing up at all.
"But the problem is we want to go," Chomos said. "We paid for (PNC Park), we want to go. We recognize that the beautiful ballpark, a ballpark paid for by the taxpayers, is a jewel and, frankly, there are enough casual baseball fans that people are going to continue to go. And people should not be denied the right to go to the game."
I really hope the protest does something...the Pirates are an embarassment to what the city stands for...
It worked in Baltimore, they actually spent money to get players. The only thing, is they didn't spend it wisely enough.
Sorry........very, very, very rarely work.
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