Pirates owner Nutting angry but keeps status quo in front office

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, 7:06 p.m.

After another second-half collapse stuck the Pirates with their 20th consecutive losing season, owner Bob Nutting considered firing the entire front office.

Although general manager Neal Huntington and his lieutenants were not purged, they will have to modify their approach to player acquisition and development. The first step, Nutting said, is abolishing the controversial, military-style drills for the club's minor leaguers.

During an hour-long interview Tuesday at PNC Park, Nutting revealed — in general terms — the findings of his ongoing personal evaluation of the Pirates' personnel and procedures. Nutting began the process after the Pirates tumbled from first place in the NL Central on July 18 to a 79-83 record good only for a fourth-place finish.

Nutting resisted a strong urge to make dramatic changes immediately after the season.

“Like every fan, I was angry,” Nutting said. “But that's not when you make your best decisions. If you're angry, you count to 10. If you're really angry, you count to 100. If you're incredibly infuriated and frustrated, you wait four weeks.”

Tuesday was the first time since mid-September that Nutting spoke publicly about the status of Huntington, assistant GMs Kyle Stark and Greg Smith, manager Clint Hurdle and president Frank Coonelly.

“We will not ever, nor should we ever, fall back on scapegoats,” Nutting said. “I will continue to be willing to make changes in personnel when appropriate and necessary. But in anger at the end of a season is the wrong time to judge someone's body of work and make decisions.”

Huntington was in transit Tuesday to the annual GM meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., and was unavailable for comment.

Nutting indicated he did not consider making piecemeal changes to the front office, which has been in place since Coonelly and Huntington were hired in September 2007.

“It is an extremely cohesive management team,” Nutting said.

Nutting conducted his own internal investigation, interviewing dozens of people inside and outside the team. He stressed that he was not done but rather that the timing isn't good for a move.

“What we have 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 is going to continue as we evaluate every aspect of the organization. Because we need to get better.”

A series of reports in the Trib the past two months described the military training techniques instituted under Stark. Part of that was a Sept. 14-16 session instructed by former Navy SEALS in Bradenton, Fla., where outfield prospect Gregory Polanco reinjured his ankle during a drill involving water and sand. But the military mindset and practices have run year-round, including “Hell Week” conducted in October by the team's instructors.

The unusual drills have netted the Pirates criticism from fans, players, agents and others in the industry. It was enough to force Nutting to order a change of policy.

“Our primary focus is to develop baseball players to play championship baseball,” Nutting said. “That's the job of our development system. We are not a paramilitary organization. We should not be running a boot camp. We should be focusing on baseball drills.”

Although he has tweaked the club's procedures, Nutting said he will not take a more hands-on role in player acquisition and development decisions.

“I strongly believe my role needs to be getting the right (management) people, putting the systems in place and then holding them accountable,” Nutting said. “The worst mistakes baseball teams have made are when owners, out of frustration or ego or passion, step in and override baseball professionals.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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