The fifth anniversary of one of the most infamous quotes in Pittsburgh sports history passed earlier this month with barely a mention. Hard to believe some wise guy didn't bring it up. Or has the recent success of the Pirates turned everyone soft of the subject of team owner Bob Nutting?
On Aug. 16, 2008, after the Pirates had signed their No. 1 draft choice -- just as they'd done every year they had a first-round pick for the previous 42 -- Nutting said this of the men responsible for that contract negotiation:
`It's the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe all of sports.''
It's hard to tell what was most noteworthy about that comment: It's stupidity or it's arrogance?
Nutting could not have named five other management teams in baseball or all of sports. And in a town where the Steelers had made the playoffs three of the previous four years -- one of them a Super Bowl and another a 15-1 season -- it was the height of bad manners and arrogance to suggest his team of neophytes was in such company.
Of course, they were not. And are not.
The point of this essay is not to dwell in the past but to set the record straight about the present and the future. People who have supported this group, which is led by president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington, are taking quite a bit of pride in the fact their long-time backing has been proven correct.
The Pirates are in the midst of a partial season of success. They've had five seasons of losing records. I am completely flummoxed as to how the one balances out the five. It does not.
I am completely aware of what condition the team was in when the current management team took over. The cupboard wasn't just bare, it had been stripped clean. People who are unwavering critics of Huntington and Coonelly like to point to Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker as examples of how well-stocked the team was. That's nonsense. Huntington and his staff had to start at somewhere close to ground zero in rebuilding the organization. Of course there were some good players left over from previous regime. Littlefield had six drafts. It's not hard to come up with a handful of players -- and that's all there were -- in six years.
Huntington has done a nice job of positioning the Pirates for the future. But to suggest his tenure has been a success is not correct. A general manager can't be judged only on his won-loss record and that's particularly true considering the situation Huntington inherited. But unless this team goes a lot further in the postseason than most expect, there's no way the record of this management group can be deemed a success.
If 2013 is followed by another winning season, then the discussion is open for debate. A third straight winning season would be convincing.
Some people seem to think because the Pirates are having a good season more winning years will continue to follow. That's not how it works and no one need look any further than the Washington Nationals for proof. They won 98 games last year. This year, despite some outstanding young talent like Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, they are struggling to maintain a .500 record.
By almost all accounts, the Pirates have a strong farm system. But it's not so strong that it has a candidate to replace the disappointing Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez tandem at first base even next year. It's not so strong that it doesn't have a better alternative to help the outfield than Alex Presley.
The analysis of the Pirates future will be for another day. The present looks good. The team will make the playoffs and that will mark this season as a full-blown success. But it will not do the same for the so-called best management team in baseball.