If any further proof is needed of the passionate romance that has blossomed between Pittsburgh sports fans and the Pirates it is this: People are coming to this site to defend team owner Bob Nutting. Who'd a believed it?
Once the most despised man in Pittsburgh sports and the frequent subject of venomous attacks from Internet posters, Nutting is viewed through a different prism these days -- and understandably so. The Pirates are winners, their future is bright. As the man at the top of the organization, Nutting deserves praise. And not just in Pittsburgh. Just the other day, the New York Times leaned heavily on thoughts from Nutting as to how small-market teams can succeed.
And, of course, all this praise is not limited to Nutting. It's been widely distributed. The players are at the top of that list but so are management types like Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington, both of whom figure to win postseason awards for being the best in their end of the business this year.
But nary a word of praise from the man right below Nutting and right above Huntington in the Pirates hierarchy. That would be Frank Coonelly, who for a variety of reasons has chosen to lower his profile.
It was a wise decision. Team presidents shouldn't be out and about publicly as much as Coonelly was. They shouldn't be making inflammatory and sometimes incorrect public statements. They shouldn't be discussing player personnel on talk shows and they shouldn't be making ridiculous predictions. The Penguins' David Morehouse would be an example for Coonelly to follow, and it looks he has adopted a similar role.
Coonelly, too, is deserving of praise.
Rest assured, if the Pirates had a bad season and sold 1.25 million instead of 2.25 million tickets, Coonelly would be taking a lot of hits for the empty ball park. But he gets no credit for the full ball park.
In 2011, the Pirates 19th consecutive losing season, they had the fourth highest attendance in team history. In 2012, their 20th consecutive losing season, the attendance was the second highest in franchise history.
That does not happen by accident. It happens because of smart marketing and a super-friendly atmosphere at PNC Park in all phases of the operation -- ushers, concessions, ticket takers, sales reps. That starts with Coonelly and it filters down through the people he hires.
Right away, I can hear them now, people are bellowing about the change in method of determining attendance. It no longer is people in the building, it is tickets sold. That's true and it does make a difference. But not one that overcomes what the Pirates did in their 19th and 20th consecutive losing seasons.
No one need look any further than Cleveland to see what can happen when a team goes bad for just a few seasons, let alone 20. The Indians, who in the late 1990s had over 400 consecutive sellouts and as recently as 2007 won 97 games and played in the ALCS, had an attendance of 1.57 million this year, a season in which they made the playoffs.
None of the above is Coonelly's finest work.
His best decision came after last season when he did not do the easy thing, when he did not fire Huntington. The public and some in the media were clamoring for Huntington's dismissal after a fifth consecutive losing season under his leadership and second straight humiliating collapse. Coonelly stayed strong. He believed in Huntington and he kept him on the job.
Not only that, but he didn't take the even easier way out and tell Huntington to fire one of his lieutenants, an avenue often taken by top executives. It would have been the easiest thing to fire the hugely unpopular Kyle Stark, he of Hoka Hey fame.
But Coonelly stayed the course with Huntington and Huntington's staff.
The results of that wisdom were reflected on the field of play this season. No one would dispute that Huntington's off-season moves -- Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, Vin Mazzaro, Jeanmar Gomez -- and his late-season moves, Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, were highly instrumental in the team's success. No Huntington and there's a good chance some or all of those moves would not have been made.
Frank Coonelly will win no awards this season and if he's as smart as I know he is, he'll realize that's a good thing. Team presidents belong in the background. Coonelly, hopefully, has found his niche.