Kovacevic: This isn’t all Nutting’s fault, but it’s all his to fix


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Bob Nutting and Jeff Banister talk in the Pirates' dugout before the game Tuesday at PNC Park. - AP

Had Kyle Crick known a week ago that Felipe Vazquez was human filth, as we'd all unfortunately find out Tuesday that Vazquez is, that fight in San Francisco might never have finished.

And it sure as hell wouldn't have been just Crick flailing away.

"I'd have f--ing killed him," was how one veteran worded it for me. "If I knew that? I mean, are you f--ing kidding?"

The Pirates didn't know, of course. Couldn't have known. Wouldn't have known. I'm convinced of that after several conversations in the afternoon leading into their latest loss, 6-0 to the Mariners by evening's end.

But again, we all do now.

Vazquez was arrested at roughly 11 a.m. Tuesday and taken to Allegheny County Jail on charges of having, per the police report filed in Lee County, Florida, “a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old female victim."

There's no such thing as "a sexual relationship" with someone so young. It's the pursuit of statutory rape. Let's call it what it is.

The pursuit began two years ago, per the report, and the victim lived in Westmoreland County at the time, then moved to Florida. Vazquez met the victim when she asked to have a photo taken with him near the bullpen at PNC Park.

"The victim, now 15 years of age," the report continued, "was continuing to have a relationship with Vazquez via text messaging and received a video in July from him in which he is shown performing a sex act. Additionally, Vazquez allegedly sent the victim text messages suggesting they would meet for sex after his baseball season was over.”

And then, it got worse -- way worse -- Wednesday morning in Greensburg when the Pennsylvania State Police issued an affidavit detailing Vazquez admitting to a meeting with the victim in which he attempted to have sex.

That's rape. That's statutory rape in all 50 states.

Here's the full affidavit -- Page 1 and Page 2 -- which is horrific and not at all recommended to read but included because it matters.

The evidence, much of it electronic, appears to be everywhere. And it's excruciating.

Which also basically means that, even if Crick was completely unaware of Vazquez's ongoing crime -- and Crick assured me Tuesday he was -- he unquestionably had the right idea when those two tangled over a long-brewing feud Sept. 9 in the visitors' clubhouse at Oracle Park.

There'll be a lot more of that where Vazquez is headed.

• This isn't the Pirates' fault. Don't go there.

No one's more critical of the people running this franchise than I am, and I won't go there.

This wasn't a case, by all accounts, where Vazquez was seen with a minor or something similarly visible. Both police reports point to texting or social media exchanges, along with isolated remote encounters. No one at any place of employment is responsible for being aware of conduct of that sort. And no one in any walk of life can either predict or prevent the behavior of a predatory monster.

• If anything, the Pirates handled this, I thought, as adroitly as possible.

The statement by Frank Coonelly, though predictably lawyerly given his past in the profession, smartly included, "We take this matter, and these charges in particular, extremely seriously." It sent a message that this wasn't just some other infraction.

The Vazquez player banner that'd been hanging outside PNC Park, at the prominent corner of the team's 115 Federal headquarters, was taken down by stadium workers within two hours:

[caption id="attachment_889723" align="aligncenter" width="640"]PNC-Park-Felipe-Vazquez-banner-pittsburgh-pirates Poles that held the Felipe Vazquez banner. - DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS[/caption]

And Vazquez's locker stall had been whisked completely clean, all but for a couple unused coat hangers. That's not how it works for a player on a leave of some sort. Generally, his stuff will remain. Not this time.

The Pirates, as with all professional sports teams, are a private company. There's zero obligation, legal or otherwise, to wait out due process. They only need to do what's best for them, and that's what they did.

• Vazquez won't pitch again. Not here. Not anywhere. He'll be out the $22.5 million he was guaranteed the next two seasons, plus the additional $20 million he surely would've collected via club options the following two seasons.

He's ruined.

As he should be.

• Protect your kids. Talk to your kids about what they do/see/hear online or their texts. It’s not nosy. It’s not overbearing. It’s just responsible.

• OK, now that I've got all that out of my system ... my God, what a mess.

And it's now solely Bob Nutting's mess to fix.

To reiterate with emphasis: Vazquez isn't anyone's fault but Vazquez. But the whole of this awful season, the post-break collapse, the worst pitching witnessed in these parts in nearly a century, the relentless waves of injuries, those clubhouse scraps and, always No. 1 in my eyes, the dozen years of failed drafting and developing that created this dearth of talent in Pittsburgh and below ... it's embarrassing.

I mean, 47 freaking runs in one weekend:

That's beyond embarrassing.

Or at least it should be.

The vibe I've gotten from within is that piecemeal solutions are being discussed. Fire a minor-league manager here, a scout there, a pitching coach here, a Mental Olympics instructor there. At least that's the vibe being given off by those still holding jobs.

If that happens, Nutting's derelict in his duty to the extreme. Meaning his principal duty.

Everyone fusses over payroll, and rightly so. But, as any other team owner in our city would attest, the money is a small matter as compared to making the biggest, hardest decisions. The ones that can, for better or worse, alter the course of a franchise.

Art Rooney II didn't like the Steelers' direction a handful of years ago, you'll recall. He didn't like seeing Ben Roethlisberger getting beaten to a pulp, in particular. So he overruled his head coach and changed offensive coordinators. Todd Haley didn't exactly shine here, but the underlying thinking did add years to Roethlisberger's career.

Maybe, depending on how this already starcrossed season plays out, Rooney will have to make his hardest decision yet. We'll see.

My point: He didn't do nothing.

Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle hated the Penguins' direction a handful of years ago. They didn't like Dan Bylsma's stubborn coaching style, in particular. So they overruled their general manager and fired the coach. And when the GM objected, Ray Shero was gone, too. Within two years, everyone was being fitted for new rings. Then again the following summer.

My point: They didn't do nothing.

If Nutting oversees a debacle of this magnitude, regardless of whose fault it is at the root in each specific instance, and changes little more than a few nameplates on office doors ... it'll be his most irresponsible, most dispassionate act yet as this team's steward.

Fire. Everyone.

• Wednesday is Roberto Clemente Day across Major League Baseball, the day when the entire sports pauses to remember the charity, the kindness and humanity of a Pittsburgh icon. They'll reference the Pirates, in one form or another, in all 30 markets.

• Nutting was at this game. He's been at a lot of games, actually. And he hasn't exactly been hiding when here.

Jeff Banister was here, too, back in full uniform. I reported in Friday Insider a couple weeks ago that he hadn't been around much as he'd been tasked with helping to study the minor-league system. I reported in that same piece that there's a strong feeling within that he could become the manager if Hurdle goes.

This might mean nothing but, as the photo above illustrates, Nutting and Banister spent a fair amount of time communicating before this game.

• Whatever respect anyone in the clubhouse held for those over their heads, it's all but vanished.

Stressing yet again, this isn't about Vazquez. But Vazquez opens up another layer of vulnerability for those in charge, fair or not, and that opens yet another layer of candor, as I learned Tuesday. Players who'd never previously discussed their bosses with me did so on this day. Players who'd never previously broached the delicate subject of team culture did so on this day.

"There's got to be change," one veteran told me. "Big change. Not just in here. And I can promise you, we'll do our part, the guys that are still here."

Every. Last. One.

• Want some idea of how little they think of them?

Coonelly ended his Vazquez statement with the following: "We need to be respectful to all involved and the ongoing legal proceeding. As a result, the organization, our staff and players cannot comment any further at this time.”

And then, naturally, everyone commented on it!

Chris Archer essentially called his own press conference to talk about it, standing and looking at the crowd of reporters in the middle of the clubhouse and encouraging them to come his way ...

... before going right ahead and calling the charges against Vazquez "heinous" and discussing how deeply affected he was by the news, given that he's got a 14-year-old sister.

"Cannot comment" was Coonelly's phrasing, to remind.

It went all the way around the room despite the unusual nearby presence of all of the team's public relations and media relations staff. The players poured their hearts out. Even rookie newcomer Cole Tucker piped up about it, for crying out loud. And finally, Clint Hurdle spoke about meeting with the players beforehand regarding Vazquez, rather than simply stating he wasn't allowed to address it.

All these guys were terrified about whatever Coonelly might say to them about it, right?

This place is broken beyond fixing. And Coonelly isn't the one to fix it, either. It has to be Nutting.

• On a personal note, if I might, I'm sick over this.

Over everything concerning the Pirates these days, but especially with Vazquez.

There's no more heinous crime in our society than one committed against a child. This individual had exhibited all forms of eccentricities, and I documented more than a few, but they all seemed fun ... playful ... innocent. A couple years ago in Los Angeles, as I wrote from Dodger Stadium, he was scooting around the clubhouse in some motorized mini-truck -- a child's toy -- laughing and waving to his teammates as he whizzed by. I laughed, too, along with everyone else.

I liked the guy.

And I conveyed that to you.

And that sucks because that feels like a dereliction of my own duty to the readership.

Not that I could've known anymore than anyone else. But it's made me question to what degree I should be cautious moving forward in painting someone as a good person, no matter how much of that it feels like I experience. Because I can't judge that, not fully, not based on the limited, semi-controlled atmospheres that reporters and athletes share.

I hope I don't go that route, though. Because I believe in Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Starling Marte, Francisco Liriano and so many others in that room. I believe in Cam Heyward, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, T.J. Watt and so many others with the Steelers. I believe in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Matt Murray and so many others with the Penguins.

Is it fair to them to have this isolated monster define anything about any other situation?

• Blow this all up, Bob. Blow it to kingdom come.

The city's clearly cast its vote, if that means anything at all to you:

[caption id="attachment_889907" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Minutes before first pitch Tuesday night at PNC Park. - HUNTER HOMISTEK / DKPS[/caption]

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