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Kovacevic: Nutting chooses failure

| Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, 4:33 p.m.
Bob Nutting Chairman of the Board and principal owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates speaks to the media on the North Side at PNC Park Nov. 6, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Bob Nutting Chairman of the Board and principal owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates speaks to the media on the North Side at PNC Park Nov. 6, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Bob Nutting Chairman of the Board and principal owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates speaks to the media on the North Side at PNC Park Nov. 6, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

It took 42 days from the time Frank Coonelly, the Pirates' president, clumsily declared that all his lieutenants would be back for 2013 to make that official, but the only voice that counts finally spoke up.

“I'm not making a change,” Bob Nutting began our meeting Tuesday at PNC Park.

And there it was, conveniently on the eve of Major League Baseball's general managers meetings that required the team to, you know, send a general manager.

Coonelly was safe.

So was Neal Huntington.

So were the two men that Huntington promoted to assistant GM last winter, Greg Smith and Kyle “Hoka Hey” Stark.

Nutting spent the better part of six weeks conducting what was in essence a one-man CSI of what's wrong with the Pirates. He talked with disillusioned front-office types, with several major-league players, with fired employees, even with other teams' executives during his trips to San Francisco and Detroit for the World Series.

He really did, too. I've spoken with a few of those he reached.

And yet, despite accumulating information that should have been the cherry on top to five years of abject failure, he chose status quo.

He chose failure.

Sure, he talked tough Tuesday, explained how he wants to keep studying, how nobody is safe …

“What we've been doing and what we'll continue to do is a comprehensive review,” Nutting said. “But that is not a two-week or a four-week process. That is one that's going to continue as we evaluate every aspect of the organization.”

But that's stale, and he knows it. It's weak. It's wishy-washy. Two epic collapses, born largely of a lack of depth and instruction, demanded so much more a reaction from the top.

We volleyed back and forth in a conference room for a half-hour, just he and I, and upon exiting I was left with one gnawing question. Same one I've asked countless times in years of covering this miserable franchise.

How do these guys sleep?

Not just Nutting. All of them.

Professional sports is about winning. It requires a competitive spirit, a consuming desire to win. It can be as outward as that of Mark Cuban or private as that of the Rooneys and Mario Lemieux, but it's got to be in there.

Where, exactly, is that found with these Pittsburgh Pirates?

Nutting stuck by Coonelly, whose numerous public messes included keeping front-office extensions and his own DUI secret for months and who, in actual job performance, has shown no benefit to having a non-baseball man holding final say on all baseball decisions.

Nutting stuck by Huntington, whose 337-472 major-league record is worse than Cam Bonifay or Dave Littlefield and who has flubbed free agency, trades, the draft and just last month said of Stark's militaristic tactics in the minors: “I believe in what we're doing and how we're doing it.”

Oops! More on that in a bit.

Nutting stuck by the lead scout Smith, too, despite expressing more disappointment about the paltry return for $52 million in draft spending than anything else.

Nutting even stuck by Stark.

This one I don't get at all.

On one hand, Nutting issued the most powerful rebuke possible to Stark's methods: He ordered them to cease immediately.

“I believe that our primary responsibility is to develop baseball players to play baseball and win championships at PNC Park,” Nutting said. “We are not and we should not be a military organization. We should not run a boot-camp environment.”

And on the other hand, he kept Stark on the payroll.

I'll remind: This military stuff wasn't just about three days of SEALS training in September, during which outfield prospect Gregory Polanco reinjured his ankle in a silly water-and-sand drill. It was about Stark pushing this mindset and these practices all year round. Remember, his infamous “Hoka Hey” email was sent in midsummer, not for the SEALS event.

This practice was the very essence of what Stark was doing, and somehow he will survive its demise.

So will farm director Larry Broadway, who never taught baseball anywhere after his minor-league playing career.

It's astonishing that Nutting, who is not a stupid man, sees these two as being the Pirates' best possible options on the planet for those two positions.

It would be more astonishing if Nutting thinks any of these gentlemen will change. If so, he must have missed this quote from Huntington in September: “There are a lot of really good baseball people in the industry who feel very differently than our fans do about what we're accomplishing.”

Get that?

The Pirates are smart, you're dumb, and all those pesky losses don't take into account the magnificent process behind the curtain.

Oz has spoken.

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