Fool Me Once Shame On You. Fool Me 17 Times...?

Paul BaronnerContributor IJune 3, 2016

after Sid Bream crossed home plate for the Braves.

I believe in the next year or two I'll be able to quit

telling him about how good the Pirates used to be.   

It seems like it was yesterday, it was actually around 1990-91, not long before “slow footed “Sid Bream crossed home plate and began our 17 years of bad luck. I was reading in the local newspaper about how the Pirates were saying they couldn’t compete any longer with the large market teams, when it came to money. I paused, then thought for a moment and blurted to my wife what I thought the solution was.

I figured, first we put more money into our minor league system. You can get more “bang for the buck” that way.  I also figured that we needed to sign our young players for as long and as cheaply as possible and when they become too expensive to keep, we thank them for their service and either trade them for prospects or let them walk. Then we bring up the next minor leaguer to take his place.

 Approaching it that way may seem harsh, but we are a small market team and this is a two way street. If you “want” more money than we can or want to afford, then you can either reduce your demands or you are free to go, just as we are free to meet your terms or not. You can’t sink the ship, by overpaying one guy (see Jason Kendall) and then not have enough for other places. The pirates are not the government; they can’t just print more money or raise taxes to cover the shortfall. If they raise prices enough to cover the cost, it will drive away fans, which decreases revenue.

The Pirates did just the opposite of my theory. They gutted the farm system in order to put more cash into a Major league team, which was financially hanging on by a thread. The most devastating thing had to be the cut in scouting; they reduced it by a whopping 75%. I sometimes joke that the reason we didn’t draft Matt Wieters was because we didn’t even know he existed. Until last year we didn’t have any scouts in the state of Georgia,(Wieters being from Georgia Tech) or California. After Kendall and Aramis Ramirez almost nothing came through the minors, and it didn’t seem to matter how high we drafted (scouting).

We depleted the minor’s so bad, that Buffalo told us we weren’t providing enough talent for them and to not let the door hit us on the way out! How embarrassing is it to be thrown out of town by your minor league affiliate. Then as if to add insult to injury, we traded Moises Alou, our top prospect, for Zane Smith, a mediocre lefty in a last ditch effort to push us over the top in order to win a World Series, before the whole thing collapsed.

Obviously that didn’t happen. Soon Sid scored; Bonds left town and things were never the same again. The next problems for the Pirates were even worse, as with the current federal government, insolvency became an issue.  Eventually things deteriorated to the point, that there was even talk of moving the team to another city.

People can say what they want about Kevin McClatchy, but he was the only person who came up with the cash and wanted to keep the Pirates in Pittsburgh. If it wasn’t for him, they might be the Bayonne bucco’s. The people that I think should be held accountable for the mess once Kevin McClatchy took over are the “baseball people” he surrounded himself with. Kevin was a zealot, who wasn’t a baseball person. The “baseball people” had to know how bad the farm system was. If they had been honest, they would have told him how bad it was.

If anyone remembers (if you’re old enough) The McClatchy regime initially increased spending at the major league level. I think that just made things worse, kind of like you or I maxing out our credit cards. We should’ve put that money into the farm system. We should’ve been building the foundation of our new house, instead of picking out expensive curtains that we really couldn't afford. So while this may be a historical piece, it’s an economic one also. When your finances are finite, you must allocate them properly in order to even survive, much less flourish.

Next came the Littlefield era. For me, this was the most disheartening one of them all. He said we were going to rebuild the farm system. I thought, finally, hope for the future. I drank the kool-aid. It was just another carrot. That guy was a politician; he talked a lot, but never seemed to say anything. I guess that’s because he didn’t have anything to say, because we weren’t progressing and weren’t going to. I think DL in all fairness to him was backed into a financial corner, but still he should’ve looked long term and rebuilt the minor league system. What he did instead was do a lot of CYA.

Everyone brings up the Aramis Ramirez trade as an example of how cheap the Pirates are. What I remember about that time is that the Pirates were in trouble with MLB because of some kind of debt ratio imbalance (the Pirates actually spent too much). We were forced to trade someone to reduce salary (debt). That someone would’ve been Kris Benson except that he put himself on the injured reserve. The only one left making enough money to get us under the debt ceiling was Ramirez. If we hadn’t traded him, we would’ve had to trade half the team about to get rid of six million of salary. Like it or not, we had to make that trade. Kevin McClatchy once claimed that the Pirates were 100 million in debt, if this is true (and how the heck would I know) it would explain a lot of the cost saving moves they’ve made over the years.

A lot of people also blame the current owner. Even though he has been on the board since 2003, he didn’t become the principal owner until January 12th 2007. To call him cheap is to miss the forest for all the trees. He’s spending money, just not on washed up veterans (well there was the ten million he spent on Matt Morris). What he’s spending it on is amateurs, and that is where we need to spend it, or as I like to call it, delayed gratification, but eventually there will be gratification.

After Bob Nutting became owner he began to assess the situation, one of the ways was to take a trip to S. America to troubleshoot that problems down there. He then fired littlefield, hired Frank Coonley and then Neal Huntington.

If Bob Nutting was just trying to make money, then how could he convince Frank Coonley to leave MLB, and why would he bother to. What purpose would it serve? I’ve heard that they paid good money to lure Perry hill and Joe Kerrigan here, again why. We drafted a Scott Boros client, why? He wanted to build from the ground up, that’s why. He wants to build a championship team with enough depth in the system to sustain it for more than a year or two.

People say we're similar to Cleveland's model. How many World Series have they won lately? We have to do it better than Oakland and Cleveland if we want to win a world series or two. It’s not just whether or not the trades work out, (Bay’s hasn’t so far, Nady’s has) it’s about the general approach to building a winner. I love the fact that we’re overpaying (the Pirates?) for minor leaguers.

To draft first and second round talent in the fourth, fifth, sixth round and later, because the players have college scholarships, then pay first round money is awesome. Heck we’re out spending like the Yankees (in the minors anyhow). This approach is building depth in the minors, especially pitching. Some “experts” think pitching in general is too risky a proposition to be drafting it consistently in the first round (are you listening Dave Littlefield?) and that you should go for position players earlier in the draft and take pitching later. The Pirates are doing just that.


 Think about how many pitchers former Pirate general managers took in the first round that didn’t pan out. Here is a partial list: Benson, Bradley, Burnett, Van ben schoten, Bullington. What a waste. Just think if we had used all of those picks on position players, Even if half of those position players worked out, we’d have a decent core in place

One thing that baffles me is the feeding frenzy that is going on in the press and on the internet towards Bob Nutting. You would think this guy’s name was George Bush the way he’s attacked. These aren’t the Pirates of 1994 or 1998 or 2004. These Pirates started in 2007, so quit blaming them for someone else’s mistakes.  Bob Nutting has been vilified and lied about, all the while ignoring the fact that he is doing it the right way, for the long term. Michael Vick recently said “you only get one shot at a second chance”. This is baseball, how about we let this group at least get to strike two before we call them out