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.