Ex-Pirates owner Lustig: Nutting 'too rational'
One of the Pirates' former silent partners is speaking out.
A minority owner for nearly two decades before relinquishing his share last fall, Jay Lustig credited principal owner Bob Nutting for cleaning up the franchise's finances but said he is too “rational” to turn the club into a consistent winner.
“If you are a small-market franchise, if you want to win, you have to be willing to lose ... money,” said Lustig, 58, a Rostraver money manager and businessman who also is board chairman of Adfitech Inc. “(Nutting's) problem is he is a rational owner in an irrational business.
“People say he is a cheap owner, but nothing is further from the truth. He allocates the money properly. He wants to make enough money to keep us from going into the red. He is running the business rationally, trying to make money. No small-market teams that win make money.”
Nutting said Tuesday night that he likes and respects Lustig.
“He was a member of the ownership group who rallied together with Kevin in 1996 to ensure the Pirates remained in Pittsburgh and later helped build PNC Park, widely considered the best ballpark in America,” Nutting said in an email released by the team. “We are appreciative for Jay's involvement in the club throughout the years and look forward to seeing him at many games this season.”
Lustig became a minority owner — along with almost three dozen others — in spring 1996 when Kevin McClatchy purchased the franchise. The team has not had a winning season in two decades.
“The sole goal was twofold: to keep the Pirates in Pittsburgh and to build a new facility. Well, we kept the Pirates here, and PNC Park is the most beautiful facility in all of baseball,” Lustig said. “But the finances were in a shambles, and then the Nuttings came into the picture.
“(Nutting) cleaned up the finances and put the franchise on solid ground. ... Now did Bob Nutting and I have personality clashes? Absolutely. I've talked to him several times and tried to convince him that now is the time to sell to a multi-billionaire who is willing to come in here and spend more money and see if he can make the Pirates win.
“Last fall I finally realized that what I wanted wasn't going to happen. So I got out.”
Seven minority owners remain, Lustig said. The Nutting family owns about 80 percent of the franchise, he said.
“They've said publicly that they would like to own the whole thing themselves,” Lustig said.
The idea that Nutting is realizing large profits each year is not true, Lustig said.
“Whatever we made in profit went back into the franchise,” he said. “The problem is, as a small-market franchise, the Yankees have $200 million more in television revenues over what we do. The Dodgers are fielding a team with a $250 million payroll, while ours is ($79.5 million).
“It's not a level playing field. The only level playing field is the field itself.”
Lustig, an avid golfer, likened the situation to golf.
“It's like we're all at Augusta playing in the Masters,” Lustig said. “The small-market guys are teeing it up at the tips, and the big-market clubs are teeing it up at the red tees.”
He said the time for a new owner may never be more ideal.
“But Bob Nutting told me something that his grandfather told his father and his father told him. And that's when the Nuttings own something, they own it forever.
“I just felt I'm too old to find out how long that forever is.”
“It's almost like (fans) deserve an owner who is a little eccentric, maybe like a 70-year-old guy who is willing to spend the money he made in his lifetime on building a winner in Pittsburgh,” Lustig added. “Bob is too rational a businessman to ever spend more money to build a winner.”
Jeff Oliver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.