Starkey: Nutting no longer a punchline
TribLIVE Sports Videos
I wondered, during a conversation Wednesday, if Pirates owner Bob Nutting has allowed himself to envision an on-field celebration at PNC Park, whether it be a division clincher or something much bigger.
“I've envisioned that nearly every day for the past five years,” Nutting said. “That's what we're pushing toward.”
Once upon a time, that kind of Nutting quote would have been sarcastic column fodder for several years. Now it's believable. Now anyone can share the same vision without feeling silly.
The Pirates are competent. More than that, they are contenders.
When did this happen?
Why isn't Nutting getting more credit?
Am I really writing this?
Some will point, with merit, to the hiring of manager Clint Hurdle or general manager Neal Huntington as the moment this franchise took a sharp turn toward competence. Others will cite the signing of A.J. Burnett or the drafting of Pedro Alvarez.
For my money, the turnaround took root Jan. 12, 2007, the day Nutting replaced Kevin McClatchy as the team's principal owner.
That's right: Bob Nutting, arguably the most vilified figure in modern-day Pittsburgh sports, deserves the first Stargell star when doling out credit for the Pirates' rise. It was Nutting, after all, who brought in Frank Coonelly, who hired Huntington, who hired Hurdle — although the latter two were group efforts.
“At the end of the day, the responsibility sits on my desk,” Nutting said. “But my style is to hire great people, make sure they have a crystal-clear mission and give them the space and room to execute it.” (Another quote that might have been laughed off as recently as two years ago but now seems perfectly palatable).
The boss always deserves the most credit in a thriving business, and the Pirates are just that. This is a financially stable franchise sitting 19 games over .500 and playing in front of monster crowds of late. It is widely recognized as having an excellent farm system.
I believe Nutting when he says of the start-from-scratch rebuilding project: “There was nothing about the plan we put in place that was going to have an immediate positive impact.”
Some disastrous moves (drafting Daniel Moskos over Matt Wieters, paying Matt Morris $13.5 million) marked the early days of the Nutting regime. Most of his decisions since then look pretty good at the moment. People still reflexively rip him — probably still call for Mario Lemieux to save the Pirates, too — but, honestly, what is the rational basis for such criticism in July of 2013?
These are the realities of Pirates baseball, even if the major-league payroll remains low:
• They spend real money on real free agents. They even stole an important one from the Yankees — catcher Russell Martin — because they took decisive action and were ready with $17 million while the Yankees stalled.
• They have become annual buyers at the trade deadline and have proven they will take on salary. It's no longer considered a joke or a smokescreen to fool fans when the Pirates are mentioned as suitors for a player such as Cubs pitcher Matt Garza.
“We have a wonderful opportunity right now with this team to push it over the top,” Nutting said. “But we can't handicap the organization to the degree where it was when we started.”
• They were aggressive in signing Andrew McCutchen to a long-term deal before last season. That was a critical litmus test on the credibility of the Nutting regime. It won't be so easy with Alvarez in a few years, but these things can be judged only on a case-by-case basis, and Nutting is 1 for 1 on retaining homegrown young stars.
• The Pirates long-ago shed their deserved label of draft cheapskates and cowards. It once was assumed they would not deal with agent Scott Boras. But a year after the Wieters debacle, they took Alvarez, knowing trouble could arise. It did in the form of Boras' last-minute shenanigans. That didn't stop them from drafting another highly rated Boras client, Mark Appel, and making him a fair offer.
In fact, between 2008-12 the Pirates spent more on the draft than any team in baseball, an absolutely necessary strategy for a franchise that wasn't spending much on major league talent. As it turned out, they outspent everyone at just the right time, too, before the draft rules changed and put everyone on equal footing.
Do I completely trust a Nutting-led regime? No, not completely. But let me go back to something he told me the day he became principal owner.
“The Pirates,” he said, “exist to win baseball games.”
That quote became sarcastic column fodder for years, but it's not a punch line anymore.
Neither is Bob Nutting.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- Police: Westmoreland women stole thousands to pay for dog show hobby
- Steelers hoping that youth movement breathes life into team
- Steelers notebook: Team hasn’t called on Keisel, Harrison yet
- Pirates expect high prices in trade market
- Pirates’ Worley tosses 4-hit shutout vs. Giants
- UPMC, Pittsburgh drop tax-status fight
- Police: Naked woman stabs 3 women during street fight in McKees Rocks
- Hiring in shale industry shifts to engineering, construction workers
- Pittsburgh Brewing tries to reconnect with region, return to glory days
- Inside the ropes: Shazier shows off speed
- GM Colbert expects Roethlisberger to end career with Steelers