Give the new guys a break

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It was difficult to tell whether the e-mailer was more angry with Pirates management or the media. He had harsh words for all.

He referred to the team's owners as "the carpetbagging Nuttings." He said they are "fraudulently impersonating owners."

President Frank Coonelly "was an attorney who never presided over anything."

General manager Neal Huntington was "the #4 man in Cleveland."

The media, he said, has a voice it "chose not to use," and suggested it has been "paid to be silent."

Strong words, indeed, and not the first time such feelings have sailed through cyberspace to my mail box.

Where to begin?

For starters, the two Pittsburgh sports figures most criticized by the Pittsburgh print media in this century are Robert Nutting and Kevin McClatchy. No one else comes close. Not Kordell Stewart, not Ivan Hlinka, not Jim Tracy, not Dave Littlefield.

Nutting and McClatchy no doubt would find it amusing that someone believes they are paying the media to be silent. Oh, that it were so.

The frequent trashing of Pirates ownership in print has done little or nothing to affect change. It might have made the writers and the readers feel better, but it has not altered the direction of the team.

Nutting is clearly a smart, strong-willed guy. Criticism is not going to make him change his course. Although he has been the team's principal owner for little more than a year, he was making some, if not most, major decisions well before he publicly took over his current role.

Nutting wants to win. It's a human condition. Everyone wants to win. No one likes to lose. But Nutting is a businessman, and he wants to turn a profit, too. That's his right. McClatchy is the man who saved baseball for Pittsburgh, but he probably could not have done it without the strong financial support of G. Ogden Nutting, who is Bob Nutting's father.

Nutting is not a carpetbagger. He has strong local ties and his family has been involved with the team for more than a decade. He's not going away any time soon. He had a plan and he's sticking to it.

To expect responsible journalists to come down hard on Coonelly, Huntington and manager John Russell, also in his first year, is preposterous. These men deserve a chance. They had nothing to do with the 15 years of losing that has turned the team into somewhat of a national joke.

Although Coonelly has never been president of a professional baseball team, he brings with him impressive credentials and years of service with MLB as an in-house lawyer. He knows and understands the business end of the game.

It has been suggested, although without much substantiation, that Coonelly would be on a long list of candidates to succeed Bud Selig as commissioner. If that is so, he certainly didn't take this job to oversee more years of losing. He isn't interested in becoming the butt of any jokes. He's interested in building a winning team in Pittsburgh. If he fails in Pittsburgh, his career stalls. No one wants that.

Huntington would not have been at the top of any other team's list for a new general manager. That doesn't mean he can't succeed. Two of the most successful general managers in Pirates history, Joe Brown and Syd Thrift, came with meager resumes.

Russell has no experience as a major league manager. So what? Neither did Jim Leyland when he took over the Pirates in 1986.

The point of all this is to suggest maybe it's time for a cease fire on the Pirates management.

That's hard for some to do because once again there are no high hopes for this season. If everything goes right, this team has a chance to challenge for .500. But it's rare when everything goes right.

There is rebuilding ahead. When the time is right some of the team's better players will be traded for prospects. That doesn't seem right after 15 years of losing, but it's probably the best way to go.

There was a chance, a slight one, that if the Pirates could add to their current nucleus more high-quality players, the team could win. But the difficulty in attracting good free agents to Pittsburgh would have made adding significantly to this mix nearly impossible.

It's senseless to scream about payroll. As has been stated here many times, you can't have high payroll without players deserving of high salaries. The Pirates don't have enough of those players. It's not like they haven't tried to artificially raise payroll by paying outlandish salaries to the likes of Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa.

As a long-time and frequent critic of the Pirates, I will continue to closely monitor their doings. But at the same time let's declare a truce, of sorts. There's no time limit on it. If the new guys prove themselves to be incompetent, there will be criticism. But let's give them a chance. Everyone deserves a chance. Even the people who run the Pirates.

Bob Smizik can be reached at .


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