Pirates to Penguins' owners a hot idea

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There's nothing quite like the right newspaper headline to brighten a frigid winter morning.

Penguins owners offer to buy Pirates

Unfortunately, there's no one quite like Pirates owner Bob Nutting to make it feel like it's minus-15 outside.

"The team is not for sale."

Unless you have spent the weekend hibernating, you probably know the Post-Gazette reported Saturday that Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle made an offer to buy the Pirates during a meeting with Nutting four months ago. My initial reaction to the news probably was the same as yours: I wanted to go find a mountaintop and start screaming, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

If not Mark Cuban as the Pirates' savior, Lemieux and Burkle would do just fine, thank you very much.

Actually, anybody would be an upgrade over Nutting.

We can dream, can't we?

Then, I read Nutting's strong no-sale response in Saturday's story. It brought back horrible memories of something he told the Post-Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic in August after the Pirates had completed their annual summer salary dumps. Asked if he would consider selling the team, Nutting said, "Absolutely not. My family plans to own this franchise on a multi-generational level, and I look forward to my daughters being involved someday, as well."

Never have more chilling words been spoken by a Pittsburgh sports figure. An endless future of Nutting baseball? What did we do so wrong to deserve that?

So Lemieux and Burkle have no chance, right?

Not necessarily.

Ask yourself two questions: Has Lemieux ever failed at anything? Doesn't he always get what he wants?

You know the answers.

Yes and yes.

Suddenly, that dream no longer seems quite so farfetched.

Word is Lemieux and Burkle are serious about buying the Pirates. Altruism isn't their primary motivation. They aren't all that interested in saving a suffering city from Nutting's terrible brand of baseball, although that would be a wonderful benefit. They see a huge potential value in owning two sports franchises in town. From regional television to cross-marketing, the possibilities are endless.

On the surface, Nutting's no-sale stance would seem to rule out the Lemieux/Burkle Pirates. Clearly, he is making significant money from the team. He can't possibly be in baseball for the winning; the Pirates have lost for 17 consecutive seasons with no end to that streak in sight despite all the happy talk at PirateFest this weekend about making a "return to the playoffs" and competing for a "championship." Really, wouldn't it be nice if the club actually won, say, 70 games in a season before the organization had the nerve to try to make us think a championship was a possibility. Nutting also can't enjoy being called one of the worst owners in all of sports, as so many of us consider him. I mean, it's not hard to imagine a "Sell the team!" chant breaking out at PirateFest today. Where's the fun for him there? He has to be in the business for the profits and nothing else.

But isn't it striking that Nutting at least agreed to visit the Penguins' offices last fall and listen to what Lemieux and Burkle had to say? I've always said he is a good businessman. If the price is right -- I mean really right -- maybe he would do a deal. Really.

That's where Burkle comes in.

His involvement is every bit as encouraging as Lemieux's.

Lemieux might be the iconic figure in the Penguins' team picture, but it's easy to forget that he wasn't such a hot owner before the NHL's lockout in the 2004-05 season evened the economic ice for its teams and before the Sidney Crosby Ping-Pong ball bounced the Penguins' way against all odds before the '05 NHL entry draft. There almost certainly would be no NHL team here without both developments and no beautiful, new arena on the way in the fall. Sometimes, it really is better to be lucky than good.

Burkle brings a different dynamic to the mix. He has the money to make a deal for the Pirates, then to do what Nutting can't or won't -- make the team successful on the field. He's a multi-billionaire. I repeat: That's billionaire with a capital B. Like Lemieux, he's almost always successful. And like Lemieux, he almost always gets what he wants.

I gotta tell you, this thing has me excited.

It's another frigid winter morning out there today, but I'm imagining sunny, 75-degree days just ahead.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com .


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