Saturday, January 13, 2007

A letter to Bob Nutting from a Pirates fan

After taking control of the Pirates yesterday, Bob Nutting issued a letter to the fans. You probably got it in your e-mail , saw it on, or maybe read it in the Post-Gazette. This is my letter back to him as a Pirate fan. If you agree with what I'm trying to say, I would encourage you to pass this around to anyone you think would enjoy it and write what you think in the comments. I have no noble intentions of toppling the ownership or converting anyone's perceptions on the Pirates, I just think it's only fair that Pirate fans get their say on this whole thing as well. Seeing as how that's exactly what I am before just about anything else, I figure I'll take a crack at it.

Dear Bob,

Glad to see you step forward so we Pirate fans can finally put a face to the figure we all know has been running the team from behind the scenes the past couple of years. That's right, we all know. Ask any knowledgeable Pirate fan and they'll say that you're every bit as responsible for the on-field debacle we're forced to watch as Kevin McClatchy is. I know you've stayed out of the way of the cameras and put Kevin in front, but eventually Toto pulls back the curtain and people figure the truth out. Still, you and McClatchy obviously want this move to symbolize something, so let's let it symbolize something. If you're going to take over as the public face of the team, you deserve to know more about the people that you know have to serve. Not the Board of Directors. The Pirate fans.

I don't know how much you know about Pirate fans, Bob. I read that you "click on the Web" and know what people say, so maybe you do know. Even so, I think it bears repeating. We are kind of angry at this point. In fact, some might even say that we're Irate. But the thing is, I think it's pretty justified. In less than a week, I'm going to turn twenty-two years old. I know that doesn't seem old, but it's old enough. The last time the Pirates won anything significant (a division, a majority of their games, ANYthing), I was seven years old. I was twelve the last time they contended for anything besides the top draft pick. Maybe you don't get what that means. People love their baseball teams, Bob. Maybe that sounds pathetic, but I don't really care. What has possessed me to write obsessively about the Pirates for almost two years? What possesses people to read it? Go to Duquesne or Pitt or Point Park or Robert Morris and walk up to a kid in a Pirate hat and say "Francisco Cabrera" or "Otis Nixon" and see what happens. They'll probably physically recoil in horror. Then say "Andy Van Slyke" or "Doug Drabek" and watch the grin spread uncontrollably across their face. Find my dad or my uncle or anyone their age and ask them about Roberto Clemente or Willie Stargell. Ask them what the 1979 Pirates meant to them and still mean to them. People love the Pirates and that's all there is to it, Bob. The problem is, there's not much to love anymore. In the grand scheme of Major League Baseball, the Pirates just don't matter. Fourteen losing seasons in a row will do that. Trading Craig Wilson for Shawn Chacon or Oliver Perez for Xavier Nady will do that. Signing Chris Stynes, Derek Bell, Raul Mondesi, Jeromy Burnitz, and Joe Randa will do that. The Pirates aren't just bad. We can handle bad. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a punchline. That's what hurts.

Still, I'm a reasonable person and I think I'm a pretty fair guy. In fact, a lot of Pirate fans will read this letter I'm writing and tell me I'm too fair. I read the stuff you say to Dejan Kovacevic in the Post Gazette and I want to believe you. "It's my expectation to win." That's what you said. As a fan, I hope you'll forgive me if I say I have ample reason to think otherwise. Still, there's no way around the statement you've made. It's not open ended like "We Will." It says pretty clearly what you want to do with the team and it's hard for me to argue with that, because I want to see the Pirates win and I should hope that you do too. But you know what? Words don't mean anything anymore. I don't care if you say you want to win or expect to win every day. I want you to show me that you want to win. Fire Dave Littlefield. Talk to any reasonable baseball person and they'll tell you that Littlefield is an awful GM. Guess who's helped turn us into a punchline? Littlefield. If you want to win, I'd suggest you start by firing him. Next up, fire Ed Creech and Brian Graham. You profess to want a strong farm system to operate like Oakland and Minnesota. We don't have that and no one is more responsible for it than Creech and Graham.

While we're at it, it wouldn't hurt to open up the vaults a little. If that's honestly not possible, at least show us where the money is going and why. You say that no one is taking money out of the team and that you don't even pull a salary, but I hope you understand why I say that other Pirate fans and I have very little reason to believe you. We read the articles in Forbes. We know what kind of money this team pulls in. We know, because we're the ones pumping it in there. The amazing thing is this the ownership group that you've been a part of makes people like me feel bad about going to Pirate games. There's nothing I like to do more on a nice summer night than walk down to PNC Park with a couple of friends, sit in the bleachers, maybe grab a beer or two, and watch and talk Pirates for three hours. I've gone to more Pirate games than I can ever count. But when I see the money Major League Baseball pumps into the team every year from the central fund and revenue sharing and I see the profits the Pirates pull in and I don't see that reflected at all in anything, not player development, not international scouting, and certainly not in the on-field product, well, it actually makes me feel bad when I do something that I love doing.

Remember, don't tell me. Show me. I'll be honest; I don't think you can do it. I don't think you really care. I don't want to call you a liar. I know you don't like that because no one likes that. So don't be a liar, Bob. If you expect to win, take the steps necessary to win. You can say all you want that we have an exciting core of young players, but if you know anything about baseball you can't honestly look at the team and believe it. Lots of work needs to be done before this team will amount to anything. As I've said, you, Kevin and the rest of the board of directors clearly want this shift in management to symbolize something or you wouldn't be doing it. The thing is, you are the only one that can make it symbolize something. If you want to start over, I'll be happy to. But you have to show me. And if you don't show me, I can't handle much more losing and I don't think I'm alone on that front. Even the most loyal fans have a breaking point.

Pat Lackey