Kovacevic: Nutting lit this cauldron
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Bob Nutting did this.
Anyone passing through PNC Park's gates on yet another balmy Sunday in this blissfully endless summer, whether you're a Streak-scarred season-ticket holder or a newbie staking out room on the rotunda, whether you're the nail-biter who keeps score to stay sane or the nutcase who will leap and roar and Zoltan for your Pirates ... take a good look at the extraordinary, emotional cauldron that will surround the National League Division Series finally coming to our town.
And know that Bob Nutting lit this flame.
A year ago this month, actually.
All by himself.
Flash back to October 2012, and the scene was drastically different, of course: The Pirates had just completed Epic Collapse II on the field and, no doubt because of that, were an even bigger mess off it. There was finger-pointing in all directions, from the front office to the clubhouse. There was bitterness and resentment, fear and outright paranoia. People openly wanted others fired.
Or rather, exit Nutting.
He packed his bags and flew to San Francisco, site of the World Series. There, he'd meet with other baseball executives and seek advice, gather outside impressions of the Pirates. He wasn't searching for replacements, just answers.
When those started flowing, he sought more, so he followed the World Series to Detroit and dug deeper.
And when he returned, he met — intimately, intensely — with everyone from the top of his own structure to players such as Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and A.J. Burnett. All meetings were one-on-one, all with an unconditional invitation to speak freely on anything or anyone, including Nutting's own performance.
“The man was serious,” Walker recalls. “For us, that was great to see.”
Nutting also sought to learn more about the Pirates' performance from their advanced stats specialists. Reams of cold, hard data followed, much of it damning.
From all that, Nutting became convinced of this much:
1. He had the right plan.
2. He had the right people.
3. Far too many were on far different paths toward a common goal.
Nutting is far more a delegator than dictator, but he knew what he had to do. As one high-ranking member of the front office described it to me a few days ago, he “blew the doors and walls off the place.”
Meaning 115 Federal.
Meaning bringing everyone to the same table.
Meaning having people who couldn't stand each other look eye to eye and exchange meaningful ideas toward that common goal.
Nutting isn't keen on discussing specifics of that period, but he told me last week at PNC: “It's tremendously satisfying to see where we are. As you know, I've owned and embraced some of the criticism I've gotten because it was borne out of the passion that these fans feel, that this community feels for this ballclub. To see where we are now, I couldn't be more proud of this. And to be able to deliver to this fan base …”
He caught himself.
“I just don't have the right words.”
I know almost nothing about what came next, to be honest. But what followed — and it couldn't have been coincidence — was by far the most successful offseason this management had in its six years. And the most successful any team had over the winter.
Neal Huntington deserves the bulk of the credit for that. In particular, he was the one who “pounded the table,” per Clint Hurdle's recollection, to sign Francisco Liriano. That might just be the best free-agent signing in franchise history.
But other voices were heard, other ideas counted beyond those put forth by Huntington's tight circle with assistant GMs Greg Smith and Kyle Stark, and other major moves were made for Russell Martin (that might just be the second-best free-agent signing in franchise history), Mark Melancon (in the trade of Joel Hanrahan), even a seeming throwaway in Jeanmar Gomez (acquired, no lie, for a prospect who finished the summer with the Washington Wild Things).
It was the offseason of a lifetime.
What's more, by the time I got to Bradenton, I barely recognized the behavior I saw. All the dissent, all the backbiting was buried. The same executives who had gone stone silent through Nutting's deep dive last October, unsure if they'd still be employed, suddenly walked and talked with a swagger. Hurdle was forecasting 95 wins, you'll recall. The coaching staff, challenged by Hurdle to be open toward new ideas that included advanced analysis, were no less confident. The players were pounding their chests, too.
“This,” Burnett said one March day, “is going to be something special.”
It's been that and more.
Just don't forget where — and with whom — it all started.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers opt for youth, speed while revamping roster
- Steelers finalize 53-man roster
- Pirates’ Polanco runs into rookie wall
- Biertempfel: First base becoming new hot corner for Pirates
- 3 wrecks Saturday keep emergency responders busy
- Starkey: Pitt does its duty
- Pirates edge Reds, 3-2, for 4th consecutive victory
- Pitt cruises past Delaware in season opener
- Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett’s Medicaid change expected to have little impact with voters
- Pirates minor league report: Bell concluding breakout season
- Woman killed in Fayette County van-motorcycle collision