Happy BMTIB Day, everyone!
It's the 16th of August and, exactly 11 years ago to this date, Bob Nutting boasted to me in a one-on-one interview at PNC Park that the Pirates had "the best management team in all of baseball," paving the way for a decade-plus of derisive references, memes and, most notably, the BMTIB acronym that persists as powerfully today as it did at the time.
Never in my career have I gotten a quote from anyone with that kind of resonance, and there's no close runner-up.
So, on this anniversary -- of which I'd been blissfully unaware until a reader brought it up in comments yesterday -- it feels like a fine time to revisit the full context of that day, those words, what led to them and some of what followed.
The actual occasion, as the years seem to have buried, was the Pirates and Pedro Alvarez, their No. 2 overall first-round pick in the 2008 draft, having barely beaten Major League Baseball's midnight deadline the previous night to sign his first contract. And even as the one who broke stories all summer long for the Post-Gazette on the battle between the team and Scott Boras, Alvarez's agent, it's difficult to describe how intense, how acrimonious and how complicated that process had become.
Long story short: Boras attempted to use Alvarez's case as a way to break what he felt was a system slanted against amateur players having a freer market. And Frank Coonelly, whose previous role with MLB had been to discourage teams from giving out big bonuses to draft picks, took a personal stake in the situation beyond his role as the Pirates' president. So the enmity that already existed between Boras and Coonelly mushroomed over the two months between the pick and the signing deadline. Barely a day went by that I didn't hear from one or the other, and the duel, as longtime readers might recall, played out as a public summer-long drama.
Seriously, if anyone really wants particulars, this was my storytelling at the time. It was a massive mess.
But by the 16th of August, it was finally done. This was the afternoon following the midnight deadline and, depending on who was to be believed, the Pirates had secured a verbal acceptance from Alvarez for his contract at 11:55 p.m. -- five minutes before the deadline -- or that acceptance came at 12:03 a.m., according to Boras, which would have put his status in flux. Whichever was true, on the 16th, the team hastily arranged a press conference at PNC Park in a clear attempt to make it all look as official and complete as possible.
And oh, my, goodness, were these guys giddy. I'm not sure I've ever seen them like that since.
Neal Huntington, speaking from the podium to announce the signing of a prospect who hadn't had anywhere near the time to get to Pittsburgh -- and wouldn't do so for months, actually -- called Alvarez's acceptance "one of the best moments I've had as a professional."
Greg Smith, the scouting director at the time, gushed: "I've been in this business a long time, and I've never seen a draft like the one we just had."
(Let history note that the front office spent a franchise-record $9,780,500 on the 32 picks they signed from that draft, and the only ones who became mainstays in the majors were Alvarez, Jordy Mercer and Justin Wilson, and even Alvarez himself is out of baseball after three years of bouncing up and down between the Orioles and their Class AAA affiliate. That's an average class and no better. But I digress.)
Through the formal part of the press conference, Nutting stood against the wall over to the left, arms folded, smiling as broadly as all the rest. So, when it was done, I approached to ask a couple questions, and I did so with cause: Four years earlier, when the Pirates had drafted pitcher Daniel Moskos -- this with Dave Littlefield as GM, but Nutting as controlling owner -- I'd been bitingly critical of all concerned for clearly taking the cheap way out. Thus, in this setting, it felt fair to let the man have his say over an apparent victory.
He initially praised the draft class and the front office's emphasis on building through drafting and developing, saying, "There's a much greater chance of this having long-term impact than grabbing a piece here or there or a short-term fix if we get impatient. We have a plan. It's a long-term plan. It's an orderly plan. This is where we need to be focusing our energy and investments today."
Of this specific situation, he added, "Even if Alvarez hadn't accepted our offer, the way the process was conducted was what was important. It shows the plan that was in place, the work that went into it."
And then, wholly unsolicited, he added the money quote, which is here in its full context: "It's the single best management team in all of baseball, maybe in all of sports. And everyone, including Greg and his staff, showed that with what they just accomplished."
Yeah, some people forget that "maybe in all of sports" portion, but that was there, too.
The following January, in a one-on-one sitdown I had with Nutting at Seven Springs after the Pirates had finished the 2008 season at 67-95, I asked if he regretted any aspect of that remark. He passionately rejected any such notion, explaining, "I have to feel that way about the people I put in that position. Our goal is to be a championship organization. When I don't feel that way anymore, then maybe I don't have the right people. I firmly believe that I do."
He had a chance to walk it back, even a bit, and instead doubled down. Two other times, as I can recall, I'd try again. Same result both times.
Here's the original article with the quote.
We don't communicate, Nutting and I, the way we once did. That happens. Trust gets burned, and bridges go down with it.
I've ripped this front office to the point of calling for their mass firing with the first sentence of all six columns I filed from covering the Pirates' six-game trip just now through St. Louis and Anaheim. For roughly half of Nutting's tenure, I supported what he'd been doing, this despite immense backlash from readers as a whole. That's because I prefer to enter every situation with trust as the default and wait for someone to build up or dissolve it, rather than vice versa. And with the collective actions of Nutting and his front office following the 2015 season -- barely lifting a pinky finger to buoy the roster following a 98-win season -- I felt like all concerned were exposed for what they really were: A business masquerading as a sports franchise.
That's unfortunate in many ways. Nutting's a good man who does from-the-heart charity work, as well as being passionately dedicated to family. Some of our talks from 2007, when he followed up on my reporting about the devastating conditions of the Pirates' Dominican facilities with his own trip to personally examine them, remain among my favorite experiences in covering the team.
Just as I remember precisely where we were standing when he gave me the "best management team" quote, I also remember precisely where I was behind the Busch Stadium press box when he cold-called me upon his flight landing from Santo Domingo. He told me I couldn't print anything yet, but he advised on all that he'd seen down there and what actions he'd soon take. It was rewarding, not only professionally because it supported the reporting I'd already done, but also personally because I could sense real passion to make the Pirates into winners, to do it right.
People often ask why I ever had faith in Nutting. Or they'll ask if he cares. And I'd say that he definitely did. That's why. I was there. It was real. And as I've often written since, I don't know what changed.
It's been a dozen years. If Nutting ever had "the best management team" in anyone's eyes, he most assuredly doesn't anymore. Coonelly, Huntington and all of them have failed in every facet. The team's brand, not to mention Nutting's own name, have never been dragged in deeper mud than at this moment.
Maybe he'll finally have learned from the mistake of overcommitting on more levels than one.
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