ST. LOUIS -- Fire everyone.
"Changes are needed," Neal Huntington had the nerve to suggest early Sunday afternoon, presumably from a bunker beneath Federal Street back in Pittsburgh since he couldn't be bothered to accompany the team he built on this six-game trip. The audio that was shipped to the surface came via his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan, in which he's interviewed by team-employed announcer Greg Brown, but at no point was it brought up why he wasn't here. Or where he was.
Or, for that matter, what could possibly have been the priority on his agenda over these Pirates being buried within one of the worst stretches in the franchise's 133-year history, an eight-game losing streak on top of a 4-24 free fall, this after Josh Bell's two home runs were blown-up big-time by bad defense, bad pitching by Kyle Crick, a bad decision by Clint Hurdle and am 11-9 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium that might have been the baddest of them all.
I've got a bunch of bullets below on the actual game, for anyone interested.
But seriously, "changes are needed?"
Oh, you bet your bunker's Spam rations they're needed. Beginning with a general manager who grasps the concept of accountability. Who grasps that, to effect meaningful change, it helps to make more than a cameo appearance around the actual club when it's having its brains beaten to a pulp for five consecutive weeks.
Baseball isn't the same as football and hockey. There are so many more games, so much more travel. So it would only partly apply that Kevin Colbert and Jim Rutherford accompany the Steelers and Penguins wherever they go, home and road, even at most practice sessions. The objective, as Rutherford himself told me two years ago on a trip to Edmonton: "I need to have the feel of being around my team. I can only get that when I'm around the team."
Now imagine publicly suggesting that "changes are needed," basically rolling a bomb under the team bus here, from five states away. Without being present to witness or discuss any of it face to face. Without giving the best effort to learn and know all there is to know.
For years now, Huntington's never made more than a handful of road trips per season, far fewer than his baseball peers. Sometimes it's to prepare for the draft. Sometimes it's to prepare for the trade deadline. Sometimes it's to check out the minors. I've been told all of the above at various times.
Really, what else is going on?
To boot, there's no one here from the front office. Not Huntington's top lieutenant, Kyle Stark. No one. As I confirmed, the ranking executive on the trip is Greg Johnson, the longtime traveling secretary.
When a front office becomes so complacent, so comfortable that it's convinced it can't be replaced, this is what results. Huntington, Frank Coonelly and all the rest have long been certain that Bob Nutting wouldn't fire them. And hey, maybe they're right. Maybe Nutting truly doesn't care about anything beyond his profit-and-loss printout. And maybe he truly doesn't see how the business aspect alone could be buoyed -- new stadium naming rights and TV rights deals are nearly due -- by sending a powerful message of real change.
Huntington brought this up on his own during the radio show: “We’ve been through this before, the calls for the firing."
He spoke that dismissively, referring to 2011 and 2012. And he spoke it as if such a call could only be categorized as outside noise. The unwashed riff-raff clawing at the walls.
More evidence of that came when he referenced “the fans’ anger and the media drumbeat” over this collapse, as if those were somehow separate from his own reality.
“Everybody has a shelf life, whether it’s the general manager, the manager or coach,” he’d say. “We understand in professional sports, when a team loses more than the media thinks we should or the fans think we should, they think the solution is to blame somebody or fire somebody.”
Oh. My. God.
How many wins we think are acceptable?
Remember all those times I told you these guys don’t measure themselves in wins and losses but, rather, via arbitrary statistical analysis?
Well, there it is. On the record.
“Twenty four of the 27 games were against teams over .500, against teams that are fighting for playoff spots,” he kept going. “When you’re a struggling team, seven of the 23 losses are one-run, 13 of the 23 losses are one to two plays difference where we make a play and it’s a different outcome."
I mean, yeah. If only the Pirates had won 20 more games in the past month, they'd be fine.
"We recognize that the players on the field maybe don’t have enough talent because of the players that I put on that field. Maybe we’re not teaching them the way we can or need to. Maybe they’re just simply not executing. ... And we recognize that our decision-making process needs to go through a thorough review.”
A thorough review? Of all dozen years in charge or just the convenient window of their choosing?
"We recognize that, as we evaluate this in the big picture and we look to take into account as much as we can, as much relevant information as we can.”
Relevant information that can be best culled, no doubt, from ... oh, forget it.
There's no half-baked, shortcut solution to be had here for Nutting. Firing only Hurdle or Ray Searage or some scouts would be scapegoating at a sickeningly obvious level. Not when it's this bad, and the people back home ... are back home. And not sweating in the slightest.
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