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Kovacevic: Mr. Nutting, who is accountable?

| Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, 12:17 a.m.
Pirates assistant general manager Kyle Stark with manager Clint Hurdle at Pirate City in March 2012. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates assistant general manager Kyle Stark with manager Clint Hurdle at Pirate City in March 2012. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

Let's be clear about one thing: The Pirates don't belong to Bob Nutting.

They belong to Pittsburgh .

The franchise is a civic institution. Just like our museums, the symphony, the opera, even the neighborhood libraries. It's been that way since the Pittsburgh Baseball Club's founding in 1887, and it will be that way well after we've all moved on to extra innings.

Even though Nutting owns 80 percent of the team's equity and essentially controls every vote on the board, he's still just a steward, a caretaker.

But that comes with responsibility. And accountability. There's no one higher on the decision-making chain, no one else who can address a mess that might be the result of those immediately under him.

Because of that, I went directly to Nutting on Thursday with questions about recent events, particularly team president Frank Coonelly's announcement that general manager Neal Huntington and assistants Kyle Stark and Greg Smith would return in 2013.

And here's what I found out: None of those gentlemen is in imminent danger of being fired, but none -- especially the three baseball men under Coonelly -- should be sleeping all that well, either.

I'd heard Nutting has been steamed with all of them over recent weeks, and I heard right from him Thursday that he is anything but done looking into Collapse II and all that might have led to it.

Including the people atop baseball operations.

"I can assure you I will personally look deeply into every aspect of the situation," Nutting told me. "Every area of the organization should, must and will be reviewed, from the approach to the draft, how we develop our players, our evaluation and acquisition of talent through trades or free-agent signings as well as our execution at the major league level."

That cover everybody?

Here's guessing he won't like what he finds.

I'll be blunt: I didn't like any part of Coonelly's statement Wednesday.

For one, it came across as arrogant when he described his top three men as "dedicated and intelligent." That's a hallmark of this management, this attitude that they're reinventing the game, while everyone else -- including the public - is naively hung up on that silly thing called "results."

For another, how could Coonelly or anyone associated with the Pirates declare that everyone would be back just nine days after Nutting told the Tribune-Review that the team was "going to do everything we can" to address the collapse?

How could any such review possibly have vindicated all personnel in nine days?

It's all on the processes?

Who makes the processes?

Nutting was made aware of Coonelly's statement, but his name appeared nowhere on it. And it turns out there's a reason for that: He's not done.

He plans to begin an intensive investigation after the season.

"I believe this review must be done," Nutting said. "But I honestly believe it's best done with a clear head after the raw nerves of the season have passed. Good decisions and good results seldom come from emotional overreactions."

And the focus?

"Clearly, the management team needs to make changes in certain areas. It's obvious that status quo is not an acceptable option. However, I also feel strongly that we've made significant progress in many areas. And we all saw in the first half of the season the promise and excitement of that progress."

That's always been Nutting's approach, to look at it all coolly.

Some might not like it, and it's easy to see why. It's hard to fathom, for example, how much more he'd need to learn about $15.4 million wasted on four free agents last winter -- Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes, Erik Bedard and Nate McLouth - or Smith's shallow drafts or Stark's "Hoka Hey" nonsense in development.

But that's how Nutting does it, and, as long as he's thorough, I won't take issue.

Moreover, I won't doubt - unlike probably a massive majority of the fan base - that he'll follow through.

Here's why: I saw up close in 2007 how he dug for answers regarding Dave Littlefield. It began in January and culminated in September with Littlefield's firing. Nutting talked to people all through the organization, as well as other teams' officials and veteran baseball men such as the late Chuck Tanner. He even made trips to Latin America to uncover a mess there.

This management team has been in place five years, just like Littlefield's, and it has a lower winning percentage. It deserves no less of a wary eye.

Want one idea?

Nutting should pick a couple of Huntington's stable of numbers-crunchers and have them assemble data to illustrate how the Pirates have fared compared to their peers in, say, free-agent spending or the draft.

(And yeah, assure them they won't be fired if the numbers come out unfavorable.)

I had a slew of other questions for Nutting -- yes, including whether he ever aspires to dream like a hippie -- but he had a busy schedule Thursday, and time was limited.

He did repeat, though, that he's "extremely upset and frustrated" the Pirates have fallen from 16 games over .500 to 76-80 after the 6-5 loss in New York.

That, of course, is two losses shy of serenading The Streak into its 20th birthday.

Make no mistake: That frustration still could result in major change. But it's going to take a while, and it's going to take a lot of work for the only guy empowered - and entrusted - to do it.

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