Bob Smizik: Teams have obligation to explain decisions

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Do sports teams owe their fans an explanation for the decisions they make -- or do not make?

This topic was discussed by a few readers yesterday after I wrote that general manager Neal Huntington owes Pirates fans an explanation concerning the decision not to promote Gregory Polanco.

Of course, sports team, almost all of which are privately owned, are free to keep their thoughts on many important matters to themselves. The fact most do not would indicate they realize there is an inherent obligation that comes with running a sports franchise.

When the Penguins fired Ray Shero they could have sent out a press release and said, as many private and public companies do, this is a personnel matter and we won't be discussing it. Instead, the Penguins called a news conference to answer questions on the decision.

What's more, owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, intensely private men, also acknowledged their responsibility to the public by granting interviews with both Pittsburgh newspapers.

Manager Clint Hurdle meets with the media before every game to answer questions on strategy, personnel and other topics.

Coaches and players in all sports routinely meet with the media after games to answer questions.

It is understood that sports team, both professional and amateur, have a unique relationship with their customers. They are not to be treated like customers of, say, a grocery chain or a department store. There is a special relationship that teams know they are lucky to have and they wisely strive to maintain it.

The Polanco situation is not an easy one for the Pirates to explain. But Huntington owes the fans some reason for the decision to keep Polanco in the minors when he most certainly is one of the organization's best 25 players and probably one of the Pirates three best outfielders.

Is there some specific skill that Polanco needs to better master before his recall? If so, let's hear it. If this is still a financial issue concerning Super 2 status, Huntington needs to get out there and tell the same old fibs. At least, then fans will know the reason.

Some fans think their loyalty to their team precludes them from wanting to know the answers to some tough questions. That's nonsense. Those people aren't fans, they're blind followers -- a far cry from a fanatic.

• • • • 

On to other matters:

• Jim Rutherford was not the sexiest hire the Penguins could make as their new general manager. He's no hot-shot young guy with several college degrees. But he's a hockey lifer who as an NHL general manager has been there and done that. There most certainly something to be said for experience and Rutherford has that.

• There's no explaining the PIrates draft-day decisions with their first and second-round selections. In both cases they took players that were expected to be taken much later in the draft. It's possible the PIrates know something more than all the draft experts about shortstop Tucker Cole and outfielder/first baseman Connor Joe. Still, the selections bordered on the bizarre.

The Pirates continue to be ridiculed for taking Daniel Mosko with the first pick in 2007. But he, at least, was labeled as eventual first rounders. The same can't be said for Tucker and Joe.


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