Friday, February 25, 2011

Pittsburgh Pirates front office: Open mouth, insert foot, once again

The Pittsburgh Pirates' current front office has had a real way with words over the past few years. They really know how to say things that get the fans and media talking. The only thing is, the response is usually negative.

A couple of years ago, team owner Bob Nutting said that president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington, and former manager John Russell were the best management team in baseball. Of course, Nutting was called a fool and an idiot for what he said.

Last year, president Frank Coonelly thought that his young team had the makings of the next Pirates' dynasty. He was ridiculed for it and even had to defend his remarks on a talk show or two.

And just recently, owner Nutting had a meeting with the players at the beginning of Spring Training and said that nothing short of winning the NL pennant should be the ultimate goal for this team. Once again, he was laughed at. "They only won 57 games last year, Bob Nut-job! How can you fill their heads with such crap?"

Personally, I didn't have a problem with any of that. I think it's pretty ambitious and a show of confidence in the abilities of the front office, the players, and the direction of the franchise. What's wrong with that?

But what Coonelly said just the other day may be enough to cause Pirates' fans to riot in the streets. He said that the only real way the team can hope to reach a $70-$80 million payroll is if the attendance increases. Obviously, this was met with both rage and fits of laughter from Pirates fans and local sports reporters.

How can you expect more fans to come out and see a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1992? How can you expect people to spend their hard-earned money to entertain themselves by watching a group of players that lost over 100 games just last season? That's just ridiculous, right?

But therein lies the problem for the Pirates. It's a catch-22.

In a way, Coonelly is right. The franchise can't rely on handsome local television and radio contracts like the Yankees and other big market clubs can. The Pirates probably make a 5th of what the Yankees make annually in local broadcasting revenue.

Sure there is revenue sharing, but it's not like in the NFL. They are crumbs the big market clubs throw the small market owners so they can earn a profit, but aren't really able to compete on a regular basis.

Attendance is key for any franchise, but it's especially vital for a team like the Pirates.

I think what Coonelly was trying to say is if the young and exciting group of Pirates prospects develop to their full potential, they will gel into a formidable contender, attendance will increase and generate more revenue, making it possible for the team to raise their payroll to the desired $70,000,000 range that fans have been coveting for years. Perhaps a "no comment" would have been in his best interest.

The fans have been wanting Nutting to sell the club ever since he became more of a public figure, but as I've said countless times, no owner can overcome the obstacles that a small market team faces on a yearly basis. At least not in the long-run.

Sure, some hot-shot like Mark Cuban may be able to come in and make a quick splash, but he'd soon realize that winning is nice, but losing money hand over fist while doing so isn't smart business. Cuban is a billionaire, and guys like that don't become that wealthy by making stupid business decisions. And believe me, buying a small market Major League Baseball club and throwing tons of money at it just to try and compete with the Yankees and Red Sox would be pretty dumb.

It wouldn't take long for the team to be put up for sale and back in the same boat it's been in for nearly two decades.

The Pirates have had three ownership groups since their last winning season: The Pittsburgh Associates, Kevin Mcclatchy's group, and now Nutting. What's been the common denominator the entire time? Major League Baseball's system.

Heck, even the White Sox general manager, Kenny Williams, recently spoke out about the ridiculous salaries in the sport and said a salary cap would probably be the best thing for the fans and for the small market teams. And that's coming from a guy leading a team from one of the biggest markets in the country.

So, instead of laughing at the ridiculous things Pirates' management says, why don't we start laughing at the ridiculous system that Major League Baseball plays under?

As for the Pirates' front office leaders? Maybe it's best that you guys stay quiet for a while.

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