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Pittsburgh Pirates Fans Must Make Ownership Walk the Plank

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 13: Fans mill around outside the ballpark on opening day for the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to playing the Houston Astros at PNC Park April 13, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Lori Matta-RhodeCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2010

The news was the most exciting for Pirates fans since the Pierogi Race was introduced at PNC Park.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Saturday that Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle had made a "very serious," unsolicited proposal to buy the beleaguered baseball team four months ago.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting vehemently rejected the offer, saying that the team is "not for sale."

Previously, Nutting had turned aside several sale overtures by Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg, who subsequently teamed with Nolan Ryan to purchase the Texas Rangers.

Apparently, some Bucs fans won't take Nutting's "no" for an answer.

The Associated Press reported that fan unrest was evident Saturday during PirateFest, when team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington, and manager John Russell heard a smattering of boos during a question-and-answer session, especially when queried about the payroll.

Bystanders said most answers were met with only tepid applause from the audience members.

Well, can you blame them?

The Pirates lost 99 games last year during a major league-record 17th consecutive losing season. The higher-ups responded by trimming the payroll below that of the 1992 Pirates, the franchise's last team to make the playoffs.

The team's projected $35 million payroll is only about half of the totals for NL Central rivals Cincinnati and Milwaukee, and it is expected to be the lowest in the majors by at least $5 million, the AP reported.

Despite the dismal failure on the diamond, the Pirates have acknowledged being profitable the past six years. Forbes magazine estimated the Pirates' value last year at $288 million.

Hmm...staying profitable but cutting payroll. Let's read between the lines here, folks.

It appears Nutting's modus operandi is to put a minimal amount of money into his business endeavors while trying to squeeze out the maximum amount of profit—with little or no regard for the quality of the product.

Ah, you say, but the Pirates haven't raised ticket prices in eight years, including when Nutting took over ownership in 2007. He can't be that greedy.

Well, he's not stupid. The club’s home attendance last year was 1,577,853, the Pirates’ lowest since PNC Park opened in 2001. He's not going to make his love of money that obvious and make a bad situation worse.

I'm here to tell ya, Bucco fans, nothing is going to change while Nutting is still holding the purse strings. You can moan, groan, and complain all you want, but the team will still be horrible.

If you want to make your voice heard—I mean, really heard—then fans must stand together and hit ownership right where it hurts: in the checkbook.

Stop going to the games. Stop buying merchandise. Don't be like those 15,000-plus idiots who showed up for PirateFest last weekend to offer support to a franchise that has the longest losing-season streak in the history of professional sports.

Remember how irate you were when the Pirates kept trading their best players, over and over again, year after year?

Remember that feeling, because it's going to keep coming back.

Hockey play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick, a passionate Pirates fan, said during a broadcast of Sunday's Penguins game: "I'm a Pirates fan for 51 years. You can't fire an owner."

No, you can't. But you can cast your ballot with your wallet.

Then—and only then—will Nutting get the message. Maybe.

"Bob is committed to bringing a championship back to Pittsburgh," Coonelly said at Saturday's PirateFest.

Yeah, right.

Put your money where your mouth is, Bob.

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