Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails to grab an opportunity now and then. Most of the time, we’re stuck with regret. Rarely do we get a “do-over.”
HOWEVER, sometimes in life we do get a second chance. And when that happens, you’ve got to take it.
Bob Nutting is lucky indeed. He had a chance to change the complexion of the Pirates organization. He didn’t take it. Now, he’s got a second chance. Will he do the right thing?
In January, 2007 Nutting had his first opportunity, when the Nutting family wrested majority control of the Pirates from Kevin McClatchy, who will forever be credited with saving baseball in Pittsburgh, but despite his good intentions was largely considered one of the worst owners in baseball.
The Pirates were now Nutting’s team. After 15 years of losing, after years of being the laughingstock of baseball, Nutting had his chance to commit the resources to the team to make it a truly competitive, major league caliber franchise. He had a chance to be a hero, to give Pittsburgh the team it deserved.
He didn’t take it. Payroll remained laughably low. He named Frank Coonelly, a negotiator from the Commissioner’s office with no experience running a major league team, as team President.
Coonelly’s lack of experience was bad enough; that he proved to be a buffoon made the choice an outright embarrassment – just what the team needed least.
Nutting further agreed to hire Neal Huntington, a little regarded but ambitious “special assistant” to Cleveland Indians’ GM Mark Shapiro, to be the team’s General Manager. Over the next five years, concerns over Huntington were borne out, as the Pirates continued to flounder and suffered two historic collapses, largely due to Huntington’s ineptitude in re-building the organization.
As for his contributions to the management team, Huntington named Kyle Stark to oversee minor league operations – and soon PROMOTED him to be Assistant GM. Stark, whose emails and training methods seem to suggest borderline insanity, is doing his best to make sure that no one forgets what a joke this organization has become; unfortunately his antics have resulted (or at least exacerbated) some injuries of key prospects.
Buffoonery is one thing; risking the health of prospects is quite another.
And unfortunately, the team is still the laughingstock of baseball.
Nutting knows that he is ultimately responsible for the team’s fortunes. Nutting kept the payroll at levels ensuring that even the most talented of GMs would certainly fail. A novice like Huntington, way over his head, has had no chance.
So Nutting blew it. He didn’t demonstrate the commitment to winning that the fans of Pittsburgh deserve. But a funny thing happened in September, as 2012’s historic collapse was winding down. An angry Bob Nutting met with the press and announced:
We have to understand what happened in September…We have to understand what happened with this slide because we simply cannot allow ourselves to do it again
As for the management team, Nutting gave them some props but also declared:
My approach has always been to fully support the team we have in place, and when it’s time to make a change, we make a change.
There was an implications that big moves were coming. But after that, not a word, except a somewhat awkward announcement from Coonelly that everyone’s job was safe. Not the reassurance Pittsburgh fans were waiting for.
Nutting understands that two historic collapses in a row are unacceptable by any standard, and that fans want to see concrete action – not more of the tired rhetoric that this management team is so adept at spewing out.
So, this is it. This is Bob’s second chance. The time has come for dramatic steps. Not changes at the margins. Not the reassigning of a few mid-level personnel, and not more lip service. Replacing the hitting coach isn’t enough; bringing in a few marginal free agents isn’t enough either.
Now, the most dramatic, and welcome, step Nutting could take would be to put the team for sale. But this seems unlikely to happen. So what should Nutting do?
First and foremost, he needs to replace his management team with experienced, proven practitioners. Time for Coonelly to return to the Commissioner’s office, and for Huntington to be relieved of his responsibilities. And there is no place for Kyle Stark in the organization.
Take a look around at some of the teams that are, after years in the wilderness, now enjoying success. Whether it's the Orioles, the Nationals, or the Oakland As, one thing they all share in common is experienced, proven leaders. You can't get by on hopes and dreams. You need people that know what they're doing.
Second, Nutting needs to make it clear that the new management team will have the resources it needs to turn the organization around. This hits Nutting where it hurts; but the last two years have demonstrated what you get when you don’t invest at the major league level.
And without the commitment, you're not going to get the right people in the first place. Both elements are needed. The Pirates today have neither.
Bring in people that will do the job right, and give them the resources to do it. Not a particularly original prescription. But that just makes it all the more perplexing that the Pirates haven’t done it already. It’s obvious – but it needs to be done, and fast.
This is Bob’s moment. This is his second chance. Let’s hope he makes the most of it.
You don’t get second chances very often.