Bob Nutting Q&A:' We can be a championship organization'
The Pirates arrive at this spring training on the heels of 19 straight losing seasons and with a principal owner who admittedly had difficulty sleeping after each of the 90 defeats from last year.
Bob Nutting, also the Pittsburgh Baseball Club's chairman, possesses an "intense commitment to winning," team president Frank Coonelly said.
"It's not always easy to demonstrate that, but I see it on a daily basis," Coonelly said. "The ability to stick with a plan you have faith in, even in the face of some adversity, is the greatest way you can measure somebody's commitment to building an organization the right way. If you have faith and confidence in the vision, when you get your nose bloodied for the first time -- if you veer off, that's when you won't follow through; you're saying you are committed, but you really aren't willing to take a hit.
"Bob understands you have to take some hits."
Nutting, who took over the franchise in 2007, said he is "absolutely not" fun to be around after a defeat. The question Pirates fans have is if 2012 will finally be the year in which the number of losses are trumped by total victories.
With about $50 million committed to payroll for this season -- that number will increase after the Pirates' deal with veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett is finalized -- and having spent more than any Major League Baseball team in each of the past three amateur drafts, Nutting is optimistic about the direction in which his club is headed.
His philosophy on ownership was just one of several topics he touched upon in a wide-ranging interview with the Tribune-Review:
Q: What is your ownership philosophy?
A: My role is, frankly, to take ultimate responsibility for the direction of the organization, the strategy, the outline -- but mostly set the expectation. It's absolutely important for everybody to understand that we can be a championship organization. I believe that. The guy at the top has to believe that and project it throughout the organization. My role is to provide relentlessly accountability. I'm most focused on the strategy and process to get us there.
Q: Given the emphasis you have placed on building through the draft and player development, how difficult is it for you to stay patient to see this strategy play out?
A: I don't think I'm a patient person at all. Frank isn't. We can't be. Patience can create a sense of being able to be removed from the goal. Patience is not a virtue in baseball. Realistic expectation is very different than patience.
Q: What is the difference?
A: I'll use the Dominican academy as an example. Relentless approach is the only way that was going to work. I took several trips down (in 2007), and Frank and I agreed we needed to build the best academy, and we got that done very quickly. There was no patience. But in the real world we are dealing with 16-, 17-year-old players. Letting them develop, that takes patience. But were we getting the flow of talent into our system before the academy• No, so there was no patience in building the academy. That had to be built, built the right way, and that flow had to start happening right away. That was relentless expectation. I'm a long-term thinker. We need to make sure three, five years from now that it's a stronger baseball team. But nothing about that is patient.
Q: To be clear, what does the term patience mean to you?
A: Patience is a world that gets bandied around, but in my view it's misunderstood. It's different from a rational, long-term process; (it's) focus on doing it the right way.
Q: How does Bob Nutting fully concentrate on owning the Pirates when he also is owner of Seven Springs Mountain Resort and plays a significant role in a newspaper chain?
A: I fundamentally believe you can't multitask. You have to attempt to be fully engaged in every process you're in. The key in all of those businesses is I'm still driven by a sense of core values: strategic focus on where the business needs to be in the longer term; a focus on making sure excellent people are empowered to make good decisions and that they never feel they are handicapped by a bureaucratic structure; and wrapping that around what the long-term strategic goal is, and making sure everyone understands we have a measuring stick.
Q: How does your experience with the business side of running a newspaper chain translate into running the Pirates?
A: I think the struggles have forced all of us in the industry to look at what is going to be successful economically and realistically, and that's exactly the situation the Pirates are in. I get asked about small-market teams and competitive balance. We have a certain set of rules (in MLB), and I get focused on how (the Pirates) can maximize the opportunities we have in that real world -- and it's never ideal; not in baseball, not in newspapers. It's critical to take a realistic assessment of what tools we have and how we maximize the opportunities.
Q: So you are a realist. A question Pirates fans might have is, how badly you want to win?
A: I actually get (ticked off) at every loss. I'm not too good at maintaining the appropriate highs or lows. That's not productive, but it's part of being human. What I do to sleep at night after a loss or a tough series -- and it's not easy for me -- is come back to the belief that we're doing everything we possibly can to improve and move forward to make sure we don't have unnecessary losses. The frustrating ones are when we haven't done everything possible.
Q: So after a loss, would a friend want to have a late dinner with you?
A: Absolutely not. Those are never fun evenings. That's part of taking the game seriously, part of being competitive. If it doesn't sting and burn, make you angry to lose, my sense is you're not putting full effort in to win.
Q: You mentioned effort. What effort should the Pirates' owner make publicly to hold himself accountable for the continuation of this losing-seasons streak under your direct watch?
A: Every decision we make I'm willing to be held accountable for. It's important I be accessible and supportive of those decisions. At the same time, I'm very cognizant that I have excellent baseball people who I believe are making very good day-to-day decisions, who are executing our plan, and I would never want to take away from them. (General manager) Neal (Huntington) has to be empowered, and he needs to get appropriate credit for the good decisions and take appropriate responsibility for when he's made a mistake. I wouldn't want to step into one of his successes. While I'm willing to take a certain number of arrows, and ultimately it comes on my shoulders, I don't want to minimize my respect for the people we have making those decisions.
Q: Has the fans' interest in you personally been a surprise?
A: I don't think anything could have prepared me for the level of public interest or scrutiny of every decision. I think it's wonderful. It's challenging and difficult, personally, but it emphasizes the level of commitment and energy by Pittsburgh fans for the Pirates, in particular. They have very high expectations. I knew that conceptually. I'm not sure I had a sense of the emotional impact of the appropriate criticism I've had periodically.
Q: Your team president said you ask "extremely apt questions" when it comes to decisions such as acquiring or signing players. What is a question you have asked recently?
A: I want to ask questions that get people to look a little bit deeper inside themselves. I believe I surround myself with people who have deeper expertise, so I try to make sure my questions are focused on making sure they've done their due diligence, respected the process, haven't cut a corner or turned away from their ultimate goal. That's easy for all of us to have happen, so we need a checks and balance. For example, we need to make sure we have a medical review of a pitcher in his late 30s who could help our team.