Winning offer: An open letter to Pirates owner Bob Nutting

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Dear Mr. Nutting,

Major league sports is a brutal business. What with aggressive player agents, deep-pocketed competitors and more venues vying for the public's entertainment dollar, it is not a pursuit for the faint of heart.

Still, your family has had an ownership stake in the Pirates for 14 years and you've been the controlling owner since January 2007. Not once during the Nuttings' involvement has the team had a winning season. The Pirates' streak of 17 losing campaigns exceeds any run of futility in the history of professional sports. It is, no doubt, as frustrating for you as it is for the fans.

The difference between you and the other Pirates faithful, though, is you can do something about it.

When you took over the Pirates, you talked about your commitment to win. It hasn't happened and, even with the latest clutch of young prospects, it's unlikely that 2010 will be a winning season. When you installed a new management team, they said they were out to change Pirates culture. That cultural shift produced more Pirates losses in each of the last two seasons than the year before. When the fans showed their growing impatience, you said there would be accountability. Let's draw a hard line in the infield dirt on when the Nutting regime will be accountable and return this storied franchise to a modicum of respectability -- or else depart the scene.

That change could come sooner if you were open to the reported offer by Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to buy the baseball team. Your insistence that the Pirates are not for sale would seem to put an end to the whole idea. Let's hope not.

As a sports owner powerhouse, Lemieux-Burkle has been able to put the necessary money into the hockey team to keep top talent on the ice. To no one's surprise, the Pirates and Penguins are poles apart in terms of image, success and symbols of Pittsburgh.

The Pirates ownership of the Nutting era has never spent much on players. Yet team officials over the years have resisted the notion that this has any bearing on the 17 losing seasons. Even this year, the franchise will be a bottom feeder in terms of total salary in Major League Baseball, with the added twist that ownership is now trying to sell cheapness as a virtue, saying it is necessary to save money for when today's Pirates prospects blossom into the superstars the team will want to keep tomorrow. If only it were so.

That's why you shouldn't dismiss an offer by the Penguins' co-owners out of hand. With their management smarts, superior finances and record of success, they could build this team into not only a sure winner but also one with staying power. Like the Pirates we remember.

In that way, by selling the team you can finally deliver on your promise of producing a winner, and probably years ahead of schedule. You would become an overnight sensation, Pittsburgh's newest baseball hero. It's worth thinking about.

Sincerely,
More than a few Pirates fans



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