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Nuttings takes control of Pirates

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, Jan. 13, 2007

The Pirates' owners have a new leader, but the message and methods will remain the same.

The baseball team Friday announced Bob Nutting, 44, will take over control from Kevin McClatchy. Nutting, chairman of a newly expanded board of directors, becomes the sixth principal owner in history.

Nutting said the Pirates will continue to rely on home-grown talent, rather than pricey free agents, and will keep the payroll around $50 million -- among the five lowest in Major League Baseball.

"It's a natural progression," said Nutting, who along with his father owns more than 50 percent of the franchise. "It's a mutual decision, and we're both comfortable with it. It's the right step to take."

McClatchy will give up the title of managing general partner, but will remain the CEO. He will continue to run the team's daily operations, including overseeing general manager Dave Littlefield.

"None of that will change," McClatchy said. "But it's important to understand that I have responsibility and accountability to the board of directors, too. I always have."

Dan Kaplan, a finance expert at Street and Smith's SportsBusiness Journal, said it is too early to gauge the long-range implications of the ownership shakeup.

"It sounds like the Nuttings are buying their way into the ownership and McClatchy is stepping aside," Kaplan said. "You can read the writing on the wall. McClatchy will probably be gone in three years."

McClatchy, who turns 44 today, was the driving force behind PNC Park, which was built with public funds and opened in 2001. He relentlessly, and successfully, lobbied Major League Baseball to award Pittsburgh the 2006 All-Star Game.

The move came after Major League Baseball asked the team to clear up its ownership hierarchy. McClatchy has long been the most visible member of the group, despite having a smaller stake than Nutting.

Nutting said the Pirates' approach -- build from within and pay attention to the bottom line -- will continue.

"It's a plan that absolutely can work, and I expect it to work," Nutting said.

The Pirates last won a division title in 1992, four years before McClatchy bought the team. It has endured 14 straight losing seasons.

The ownership move is pending the approval of the 30 major league owners, who will vote on it Thursday in Phoenix.

"Bob and his family provide strong, stable ownership for the Pirates," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. "He has a great passion for the Pirates and a tremendous desire for the team to succeed."

Nutting, of Wheeling, W.Va., and his father, G. Ogden Nutting, were part of the ownership group McClatchy pieced together to buy the franchise in February 1996. Their stake began with a $2 million loan to McClatchy, and they snapped up portions of the team as members withdrew from the group.

Bob Nutting is president and CEO of Ogden Newspapers and Nutting Newspapers, which also publishes magazines, shoppers and phone directories. The Nutting family last year purchased Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Somerset County.

Beginning to take a more active role with the Pirates in 2003, Bob Nutting until recently had shunned interview requests.

"I want to be sure that I'm not cast as mysterious or hard to reach," Nutting said. "I want to ... demonstrate my interest and commitment in the team, the future of the team and frankly seeing the team win more games."

Last season, the Pirates finished with a 67-95 record. They did inspire some hope for the future by going 37-35 after the All-Star break.

The Pirates are one of just three teams that have not acquired a significant free agent this offseason.

Littlefield has been stymied in his attempts to land a left-handed power hitter or a right-handed pitcher through trades.

Yesterday, Nutting and McClatchy said the team's 2007 payroll will be "in the $50 million range," which again would rank among the lowest in the majors.

But Nutting did not see that as an obstacle to success.

"I absolutely believe that can be done," Nutting said. "The way it can be done is the way we're doing it right now: strong commitment to building from within, holding on to our talented core of players that Dave and Kevin have put together."

Nutting denied the suggestion that the reorganization presaged a sale.

"We are absolutely not positioning ourselves to sell the team," Nutting said. "I see it as something we'll be involved with for a long time."

Also yesterday, the Pirates added two members to the board of directors: Bill Nutting, Bob's older brother and the vice president of Ogden Newspapers; and Duane Wittman, the chief financial officer of Ogden Newspapers. They join Ogden and Bob Nutting, McClatchy and North Carolina businessman Don Beaver.

With the additions, the Nuttings will control three of the board's six votes. McClatchy and Beaver are the only board members without direct ties to the Nutting family.

Beaver did not return a phone call from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Previously, McClatchy held two of the board's five votes. Now, every member has one vote.

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