Whole lot of nothing from Nutting
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My invitation to this week's hurry-up Bob Nutting news conference having apparently been lost in an email, I'm probably in no better position than anyone to interpret the freshest burst of baseball brilliance from the man who runs the show at 115 Federal St.
Like that would stop me.
Various media outlets had been agitating for fresh Nutting nuggets since August, or just as the Pirates embarked on the worst collapse in baseball history, but the ballclub finally made the owner available only after selecting a slow news day in November.
The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, more commonly referred to as Election Day In America.
If you didn't know it was the Pirates, it would almost have seemed shrewd, no?
The purpose of the Tuesday chat with selected beat writers and some broadcast types was partially to muffle some rogue speculation that Nutting was about to fire general manager Neal Huntington, even though team president Frank Coonelly already had stated otherwise six weeks ago.
So Coonelly said there would be no changes in top management Sept. 26. Nutting affirmed there would be no changes in top management Nov. 6. If there's another management presser Dec. 18, I look for a re-affirmation of management's evident going-nowhereness.
Hey, is this some kind of SEALs training?
This week's installment was a whole lot of Nutting, except perhaps for a couple the owner's observations, one of which seemed to challenge the orthodoxy of Huntington's Church of Advanced Metrics. Nutting said he wanted more scouts who acted upon "a strong sense of the gut and the feel of, 'He's a gamer, he can play, he can contribute.' "
That would have been the time for someone to ask the owner if he had seen "Moneyball," the Oscar-nominated film in which Brad Pitt, as Oakland general manager Billy Beane, derides that very line of gut-first thinking at a table ringed with scouts representing an old-school paradigm, a scene so powerful it catapulted Pitt into a netherworld of psychotic perfume commercials completely drained of color and meaning.
OK, probably not how I would have phrased the question, but you get the idea.
The other "highlight," I guess, was Nutting's observation that the Pirates "should not be, will not be, are not, a paramilitary organization."
That's a bit of surprise, frankly.
How you can sell, for example, 2,091,918 tickets for a baseball show that hasn't been competitive since the first Bill Clinton campaign without at least the threat of small-arms fire seems nearly impossible.
Nutting's non-paramilitary assertions were the outgrowth of stories that detailed the use of Navy SEALs training methods within the organization's player-development schemes, which likely would have been praised had the club just remained 16 games above .500 and found its way into the playoffs.
Otherwise, the owner essentially confirmed that, after an exhaustive evaluation of every aspect of baseball operations, management was not to blame. Nutting said he reached this conclusion mainly due to the club's improvement by seven games this year and by 15 a year earlier.
Its final address for the 2012 season, 79 wins, 83 losses, 18 games out of first, however, says less about management's aptitude than about what former George Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson identified as "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
Huntington took the car keys from Nutting near the end of 2007, drove a junky 68-win team down into a 57-105 ditch three years later and has now steered teams cruising toward the postseason hard into the guard rails in consecutive summers.
He'll get a sixth Pittsburgh summer, one that in my view doesn't figure to find the Pirates returning to midseason status as one of the best teams in the majors.
Nutting's exhaustive analysis has somehow indicated that Huntington should stay, along with the rest of the front office, but that Luis Silverio's performance in the first-base coaching box can no longer be tolerated, and neither can P.J. Forbes' efforts as the manager at Class AA Altoona. Also, after considerable study, it was decided that catcher Rod Barajas, who made $4 million while hitting .206 and throwing out four of 80 would-be basestealers, was probably not up to standards, such as they are.
Not terribly comfortable with that term would-be basestealers, I admit. With Barajas, they be basestealers.
Should you need a new definition of incompetence, however, stick to the owner's box.
In his explanation of how the organization adjusted its free-agent rankings as a result of thorough self-examination, Nutting said this: "What did we see, what did we miss, where were we consistently good, where were we consistently bad, how do we not do it again, because we cannot afford, from performance or financially, to screw these up."
All good questions Bob, and all, as usual, unanswered.
To be fair, Nutting's in a difficult spot. He's not qualified to evaluate baseball management. He sought opinions, he says, from other baseball executives, from the commissioner's office (which I believe recommended Frank Coonelly five years ago), and from players. Mostly, it appears, he relied on Pirates management to evaluate Pirates management.
As for the delay in making himself available, Bob said he was simply too upset.
"If you're angry, you count to 10," he said. "If you're really angry, you count to 100. If you're incredibly infuriated and frustrated, you wait four weeks."
Or 20 years.
First Published November 8, 2012 12:00 am