9-4-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a historical franchise in North American sports.
No, really. If you study the history of this game or any game for that matter, the Pittsburgh Pirates were there at the beginning. They have a rich and storied history that we all should rightly appreciate, but in celebrating 19 members of that historic lineage, it’s impossible to ignore the man currently overseeing it’s stewardship.
Bob Nutting saw protests yesterday as he presided over the inaugural class of the Pirates Hall of Fame. Relatively small really, but vocal enough to garner some attention. Misguided in some ways, short sighted in others, frustrated on all fronts.
The first part of this whole thing was of course the hall itself, it’s long overdue. The players who were inducted, well, it was a healthy mix of players who everyone would consider no brainers, Negro League stars finally getting the appreciation they richly deserved, and some who haven’t been recognized adequately by the MLB Hall of Fame yet.
There was no chance the celebration was going to happen while ignoring the current state of the baseball team. In fact, there was little chance it was going to happen without fans realizing they’ve maybe had one player past 1994 who’ll earn his way on that wall one day.
I mean here we are celebrating someone like the Cobra, Dave Parker, you know, the guy who said when the leaves turn brown I’ll be wearing the batting crown? We’re doing that under the shadow of the current team that hasn’t scored more than 2 runs 54 times so far. And I have to say so far, because watching them play, how could you assume that’s turning around?
It all had the feel of attending a graduation party for a kid you know has to go to Summer school to finish up. Know what I mean? It feels somehow hollow.
It’s not like I lack respect for anyone who was enshrined. It’s not like I think they should have put it off even longer waiting for a winning team. It’s not as though you could do something like this and not involve Bob Nutting.
Now, the protests. One was a relatively quiet protest, several people held up signs that simply said #SellTheTeam and they were largely ignored. The other, more disruptive, was a gentlemen on a bullhorn screaming at Bob Nutting “What are you doing for the black community?”. Now, of all the things Bob has done wrong, Pirates Charities and their community outreach efforts have not been one of them in my eyes, but ok.
Both accomplished nothing, just like the team they trotted out last night.
Several members of the Media tried to get Bob Nutting to speak to the on field product yesterday. Here’s one and he has a nice write up in the PG.
Now, a smart PR unit, probably has him prepared to follow that statement, which is totally fair given the event by the way, with something like, ok I’ll sit down with all of you next week.
Again, he was right, last night should have been about these amazing men, but they had to be prepared to face questions. After all Bob hasn’t spoken to the media without restrictions on the topics since Spring and even then it was limited.
Funny thing is, I can’t think of anything Bob could say that would truly improve the state of fans and their attitude toward ownership or management.
Really though, that’s beside the point. You still have to do it. You still owe fans hearing answers to specific questions, and if those answers are evasive as they tend to be, expect fans to demand them asked again, this time with more oomph.
I don’t expect Bob to have an opinion on Andy Haines, because none of that is where he has input really. If a question as general as “how do you feel about the current state of the team?” is too invasive though, we’ve got issues. Again, I’d expect the answer to be underwhelming doubletalk, but no comment doesn’t cut it.
‘Obviously we expect to keep getting better’ doesn’t work either. First of all, in order to “keep” getting better, one has to start getting better.
If an owner is spending money, and you know what I mean, like league average money, fans probably have their ire targeted at the GM. If the GM has provided good players and the team isn’t winning, the fans’ ire is likely targeted at the coach.
When the owner is not spending money, the GM continues to field or roster players that don’t even meet replacement level standards and the coach misuses the little talent he does have, don’t expect fans to just smile their way through a beautiful hall of fame ceremony.
None of this even acknowledges that Toronto Blue Jays fans outnumbered Pirates fans 3 to 1 easily. I mean, Toronto is always going to travel when they play here, but for this game to be that lopsided, and not a sellout with the HOF ceremony, a drone show on a nice Summer night, yeah, I might come to realize I have to talk to the fans.
Look, I feel bad even writing this piece. None of the 19 men being enshrined or their families deserve to have it tainted by how the franchise has trended since any of them wore the uniform. It’s not on them that they’re being honored at a time when the team is actively dishonoring their legacies.
All of the inductees and their families were gracious, if not generous with their comments and interviews, but none of them could possibly be pleased with what has happened to the team they earned their honors.
Fans deserve more. I don’t mean some pie in the sky goal to never be below .500 again, or something silly like that, but they deserve answers, even if they’re bad ones. They deserve hearing from people in charge. They deserve more than a nice night out. They deserve not having their stadium taken over by opposition fans on a near nightly basis.
Nothing against Blue Jays fans, they were actually great. I was at both games of this series and both times felt like I was rooting for the visitor. The Mets will bring the same when they arrive.
When the Cardinals come to town, there will be more people rooting for Albert Pujols to hit number 700 than fans rooting for Oneil Cruz to hit one in the river.
This environment is a reflection of the Nutting stewardship of this once proud franchise.
He’ll never be a beloved character in Pittsburgh. Even if somehow Ben Cherington pulls off the impossible and wins it all here. In that case it will be the story of how Cherington overcame the limitations of his ownership to deliver a championship to Pittsburgh, not a partnership that netted the victory. All that said, he has to start facing the fans much more, especially when he plans on being very publicly involved with something meant to call on the legends that used to patrol the diamond here in Pittsburgh.
This year is lost, and worse than that, it was clear they didn’t plan for it to be anything but a poor season. Unless they tell us how they plan to change that in 2023 why would fans expect anything else? They’ll return a very similar roster, and while kids get better, that responsibility is a lot to put on a group that right now can’t muster 5 hits per game with any regularity. Sure would be nice to hear from management that they planned to invest at least enough to ensure we could look forward to a respectable team.
Next year will be year 4 of this rebuild. It’ll also be year 4 of journalists and fake media like me trying like hell to read tea leaves and help you know what to expect.
All I’m saying is, that shouldn’t be our job.
Unfortunately those who should wear that responsibility would rather not say. They’d rather keep us looking backward at the greatness that was, in the hopes we’ll ignore the ineptness that it has become.
Bittersweet pretty much says it all.
One day when Andrew McCutchen makes the wall, it’ll serve as a reminder that this team hasn’t been playing the same game as most of the league for the best part of 4 decades. It should be a celebration of his accomplishments, what he meant to this franchise and all that stuff will surely be sold, but in the back of your mind, you’ll know.
Make time to talk to fans Bob. Not just season ticket holders either. Make time to talk to the fans that firmly believe you don’t care. Make time to talk to the fans who believe you want payroll to compete for the bottom spot year over year for your bottom line as opposed to your GM’s plan.
Put yourself out there. Take the egg on your face for a while. Answer tough questions with tougher answers. Maybe try actually accepting publicly that you haven’t done a good job with your responsibility to oversee the lasting tradition of this historic franchise.
We may never like you, but maybe we could come to respect the effort. Here’s another thing too, if you do manage to get better next year, maybe refrain from I told you so’s.