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Starkey: Nutting but endorsements from Pirates

About Joe Starkey
Picture Joe Starkey 412-320-7848
Freelance Columnist
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Joe is a freelance sports columnist for the Tribune-Review.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pirates co-owner Bob Nutting (left) applauds as outfielder Nate McLouth is introduced during opening day festivities against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, April 5, 2012, at PNC Park. (AP Photo)

By Joe Starkey

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

How can this be?

How can Pirates president Frank Coonelly release a statement guaranteeing that general manager Neal Huntington, assistant GMs Greg Smith and Kyle Stark and manager Clint Hurdle all will be retained next season and in the very same statement say the team has not yet turned its “full and total attention to evaluating why we were unable to finish the job”?

Shouldn't the evaluation come first?

Coonelly, unfortunately, did not make himself available for further comment.

How can that be?

How can the team president drop a bombshell — and it is a bombshell when you announce that nobody will be held responsible for a second consecutive historic collapse – and not answer questions?

Could it be that team owner Bob Nutting simply doesn't want to pay people for not working?

Nutting, after all, hasn't exactly forged a reputation as wild spender. If he fired Huntington, it's entirely possible a new GM would want a new manager, not to mention many new assistants. That means Nutting would be on the hook for the remainders of the deals with Huntington (two years), Hurdle (one year), plus whatever Smith, Stark and a lot of other people are owed, plus all the incoming salaries.

That's not his style.

Of course, Nutting didn't talk either. Two questions I would have asked him:

1. Did you give this statement your full blessing?

2. Would you consider bringing in a “senior adviser” of sorts to help with talent evaluation?

I would have asked the first question because, curiously, nobody at the Pirates would confirm that Nutting endorsed Coonelly's statement. I was told only that I should assume he did.

OK, I'll assume that. But it also got me to wondering: If Huntington could go on his radio show, as he did Sunday, and say he had no intention of parting ways with Stark or Smith, then why couldn't Coonelly unilaterally express his support for Huntington, Hurdle & Co.? Maybe Nutting only gave a half-hearted blessing. Maybe he is sitting in the weeds waiting to take action after the season — though I doubt it.

Either way, there is yet time for the owner to come to his senses. Something isn't working here. The Pirates did not just play poorly to finish the season. They imploded in biblical fashion for the second straight year. Their record over past two Augusts and Septembers — going into Wednesday's game — was a combined 35-72, good for a .327 winning percentage.

Last year, the Pirates went from first place in a division to double-digit games out faster than any team in baseball history. This year, as ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reported, they might become the first team to be as many as 16 games over .500 after 108 games and finish with a losing record. In a related story, the organization hardly is flooded with major league-ready talent. Just the opposite. And millions have been wasted in free agency.

It should go without saying that all of this is unacceptable. Yet everywhere you turn in this organization, you find acceptance rather than outrage, despite Coonelly finishing his lawyerly statement like this: “Confidence in and support of Neal, Kyle and Greg should not be misunderstood with acceptance of another poor finish at the Major League level. We must understand why the quality of our execution and play deteriorated so markedly in August. Finishing was the focus from spring training, but it certainly was not achieved.”

I asked Huntington yesterday — he was available to speak, albeit well before the statement was released — if 82 wins might be a way of salvaging the season.

“I know our fans hate when I say this, but 82 has never been significant to me,” he said. “Once we fall short of winning the World Series, we've not truly had a successful year. From our standpoint, 82 doesn't represent anything but a win total better than 72. It's not something we're going to celebrate.”

I still think 82 is critical in terms of perception, and I wonder if Nutting feels the same way. I wonder if he's still waiting on some big decisions, or whether he's content to save the money and shut his ears to the outrage.

How can this be?

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

 

 

 
 


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