Bob Nutting could cure cancer, cut off climate change and create an unprecedented air of harmony in our nation's politics, and he'd still be a pariah in Pittsburgh. He's the most lost of all lost causes in our city, and I can't conceive of any way that could change.
With one possible exception: He could clean house.
Saving face is no reason to replace a front office, and Nutting, for whatever anyone chooses to think of him, isn't the type to do that. But the coldest, ugliest fact of his dozen-year stewardship of the franchise -- yes, colder and uglier than the payrolls -- has been an astonishing lack of accountability. Because over all 12 years, other than firing Dave Littlefield a few months after taking control from Kevin McClatchy, the number of significant moves made to the front office equals ... one?
Yeah, if you can even count it as one, Greg Smith was quietly demoted a couple years ago from assistant general manager to special assistant to the GM.
You know the gig ...
This will be the ninth season out of 12 under Nutting, Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington and Kyle Stark that the Pirates will have missed the playoffs. This will be the eighth losing season out of those 12. This will be the 19th season PNC Park has existed, and its next new flag will be its first.
And right now, they're in the midst of one of the most miserable stretches of baseball seen in these parts for three decades: The latest loss, 9-7 to the Brewers last night at PNC Park, was the 19th in 23 games since the All-Star break.
It's an epic embarrassment in its own right.
Nutting's done nothing. Coonelly's done nothing. Huntington's done nothing other than to scratch out a business card.
Any company that lacks accountability, both positive and negative, lacks the structure to succeed. And the will to succeed. Because what happens over time -- especially an extended period like this -- is that all concerned realize, maybe even subliminally, that they're here to stay, no matter the degree to which they fail. Comfort sets in. Complacency. And the failure takes even deeper root.
Nutting values loyalty almost as much as a dollar. This wouldn't be the way it was with Littlefield, as those two were never close, and Nutting didn't like anything he did from the moment he took over. This would be cutting the cord with men he sees as lifelong friends. People he's trusted and people who've trusted him.
At the same time, Nutting's first and foremost a businessman, as those closest to him will attest. And what's happening right now -- no, really, what's been happening for a dozen years but for one magical October night in 2013 -- is bad for business. The brand's being dragged through the mud like at no point in the franchise's 133 years. The owner's name might as well be the mud through which it's being dragged. And at the same time, the two most important contracts of Nutting's tenure -- the local TV and stadium naming rights deals with AT&T SportsNet and PNC Bank, respectively -- are about to come due, only magnifying the muddy effect.
People here are nervous. And they're nervous unlike any phase I've detected since Stark's 'Hoka Hey' stupidity a few years back. They're worried this current team could keep losing and losing. That's why, strikingly, they kept all those veterans at the trade deadline. That's why they're keeping Mitch Keller and Ke'Bryan Hayes in the minors rather than acknowledging any kind of rebuild.
Maybe -- maybe -- it's because Nutting will finally take this one facet of his stewardship seriously.
Again, if he does, it won't win him many, if any friends in this city. That ship hasn't sailed so much as it's been sunk. But it could at least theoretically begin, however slightly, the process of washing away the worst accusation of all. The one, of course, that Nutting doesn't care.
Fire them all, Bob. Start over. Just like 2007.
In a setting where the best any Pittsburgher can hope for is the sale of the team, that's a hell of a second-best.
To continue reading, log into your account: