Cook: Finding Mr. Right won't be easy for Pirates

Russell must go as manager, but other half of equation is key element for future

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If it has been said once during the Pirates' slow, steady, painful march to 100 losses in an 18th consecutive season of losing, it has been said hundreds of times.

"They need to fire Russell and bring in a 'name' manager!"

Please.

Let me clarify that:

Firing John Russell is fine. Put the man out of his misery. It's the humanitarian thing to do. But getting a proven manager to come work for the Pirates? For owner Bob Nutting?

Please.

Russell already might have been fired and Pirates management isn't telling us. Even by the franchise's miserable standards, this season has been a joke, "an embarrassment to the city, to the Pittsburgh Pirates and to our fan base," according to team president Frank Coonelly, who added the team is "underperforming."

Russell can't survive that, even though Coonelly picked up his contract option for 2011 in October and didn't get around to announcing it until mid-June.

No manager could survive that.

One of this city's great sports mysteries is how Russell got the Pirates' job in the first place. Something must have made Coonelly leave their interview, rush to Nutting and scream, "We've found our guy! This is the man we have to have!" But what? Please, tell me. What?

Russell's strategical brilliance? Haven't seen much of that.

His communication skills with the players? Not good, I hear.

His passion for the game and fire in the dugout? Yeah, right.

The fact he was willing to work cheap? Surely with Nutting, that was a factor, but there are other young managers who would work for nothing to have the chance to run a big league team. I know it's a reach to describe the Pirates as a big league organization a lot of days, but they are one of 30, you know?

We probably never will know why Russell was hired. All that's certain is that he has failed miserably. The Pirates took a 41-84 record into their game against the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night and were 170-278 in his nearly three full seasons on the job.

Casey Stengel couldn't survive that mind-numbing losing.

Russell shouldn't feel too badly, though.

Better managers have crashed and burned here.

The Pirates have tried just about everything to get the right guy since Jim Leyland -- as good a manager as there is -- left after the '96 season. They hired Leyland disciple Gene Lamont, who failed. They hired Lamont disciple Lloyd McClendon, who failed. They hired "name" manager Jim Tracy, who failed. Then, almost comically it seems now, they hired Russell, their former third-base coach, whom they didn't retain when McClendon was fired late in the '05 season.

I'm thinking the Pirates' job is a managerial graveyard.

Tracy was lucky. He signed on with the Colorado Rockies as bench coach after the '08 season and took over as manager when Clint Hurdle was fired in May '09. He led the team to the playoffs that season and was National League Manager of the Year.

To briefly recap Tracy's career:

He wins a division title with the Los Angeles Dodgers in '04, loses spectacularly in two seasons with the Pirates, then is Manager of the Year with the Rockies.

It really is a graveyard here.

What "name" manager would want to work here with that history?

What "name" manager would want to work for Nutting?

Nutting and Coonelly made a big deal this week about opening the franchise's books a crack to point out that Nutting isn't making the profits that many people think. That's supposed to make us feel better? All it did for me was confirm my belief that Nutting is a bad owner. It doesn't matter if he isn't willing or can't afford to properly fund the Pirates on the major league level. Either way, they're still underfunded.

Maybe it's just me, but don't you usually get what you pay for in America?

There's just no way a proven manager with other options -- any option at all, actually -- would want to work in a situation where winning is almost impossible.

That's OK, though. I'd rather see the Pirates take a chance on a young manager on the way up than hire one of the retreads who might have won somewhere else but ultimately was fired. I don't care how unknown the young guy is or how big a name the retread has. Joe Torre has a huge name and is regarded as a pretty good manager, right? Going into the games last night, his Dodgers were 63-62 and buried deep in the National League West standings. A recognizable name doesn't guarantee a winning team.

Find me the next Leyland.

No one knew Leyland when the Pirates hired him after the '86 season. He spent 11 seasons managing in the minor leagues before working as Tony LaRussa's third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox from 1982-85.

That worked out pretty well for the Pirates.

Sadly, that's the last time one of their managers worked out.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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