Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rich white guy bites rich white guy

The Trib's Jeff Oliver talked to a former Pirates stakeholder who had some interesting things to say.

One of the Pirates' former silent partners is speaking out.
A minority owner for nearly two decades before relinquishing his share last fall, Jay Lustig credited principal owner Bob Nutting for cleaning up the franchise's finances but said he is too “rational” to turn the club into a consistent winner.
Too rational? You have my attention. Go on...
“If you are a small-market franchise, if you want to win, you have to be willing to lose ... money,” said Lustig, 58, a Rostraver money manager and businessman who also is board chairman of Adfitech Inc. “(Nutting's) problem is he is a rational owner in an irrational business.
“People say he is a cheap owner, but nothing is further from the truth. He allocates the money properly. He wants to make enough money to keep us from going into the red. He is running the business rationally, trying to make money. No small-market teams that win make money.”
This might have some validity if it was in any way verifiable. I don't know if Tampa Bay or Oakland make money. Hell, I don't even know what constitutes a "small-market team" anymore. 
I've long said that I don't think the current state of the Pirates is as much Nutting's fault as it is the guys he's hired. The current management team is a floundering group of whiny, petulant morons, and the people they've hired to run crucial segments of the organization are, to be polite, egregiously unqualified. I really do think it's possible to win on a low, tight budget. I don't think it's possible to do if you cut corners on scouting and player development, spend unwisely on major-league free agents and refuse to identify and buy low on others' assets and sell high on your own.
“(Nutting) cleaned up the finances and put the franchise on solid ground. ... Now did Bob Nutting and I have personality clashes? Absolutely. I've talked to him several times and tried to convince him that now is the time to sell to a multi-billionaire who is willing to come in here and spend more money and see if he can make the Pirates win.
This guy obviously has an ax to grind that may or may not stem from Nutting preventing him and the other shareholders from making a good deal of coin by selling at a certain time. And I'm fine with that. I wish more people with knowledge would speak out so we could get a clearer picture of just what the hell is going on in this organization.
“Last fall I finally realized that what I wanted wasn't going to happen. So I got out.”
You noble steed, you.
Seven minority owners remain, Lustig said. The Nutting family owns about 80 percent of the franchise, he said.
“They've said publicly that they would like to own the whole thing themselves,” Lustig said.
The idea that Nutting is realizing large profits each year is not true, Lustig said.
“Whatever we made in profit went back into the franchise,” he said. 
1) So for the second time in just over two-and-a-half years, we have an indication that the Pirates are doing exactly what they say they're doing; reinvesting profits in the franchise and not pocketing money, as people have alleged for year and stupidly still do. They're doing exactly what they say they've been doing. They're just doing it very poorly.
“The problem is, as a small-market franchise, the Yankees have $200 million more in television revenues over what we do. The Dodgers are fielding a team with a $250 million payroll, while ours is ($79.5 million). “It's not a level playing field. The only level playing field is the field itself.”
Hey, this guy saw Moneyball...and walked out after the first half-hour. This is a false dilemma. Yes, baseball's economics are fucked, but we'll get back to that in a minute. I feel an analogy coming on.
Lustig, an avid golfer, likened the situation to golf.
“It's like we're all at Augusta playing in the Masters,” Lustig said. “The small-market guys are teeing it up at the tips, and the big-market clubs are teeing it up at the red tees.”
This is a perfect analogy because it reveals that they're all just whitey. As is true with most of history's great scuffles, this is a slap fight between rich white men, and the masses are the only ones hurting.
He said the time for a new owner may never be more ideal.
“But Bob Nutting told me something that his grandfather told his father and his father told him. And that's when the Nuttings own something, they own it forever.
Does that hold true for dead institutions, like newspapers and slavery? 
Nobody is going to argue that Bob Nutting is a wonderful owner. But I don't buy for a second that it's impossible to win on the Pirates' operating budget, and I don't buy it because there are baseball organizations with similar financial circumstances which are in far better shape from top to bottom than are the Pirates. Oakland made the playoffs last year with the second-lowest payroll in baseball, and did so out of a tougher division than the NL Central. Tampa Bay won 90 games last year with virtually the same payroll as the Pirates, and nobody even goes to their stupid gamesCincinnati spent just $19 million more on their major league payroll than the Pirates did last year, and the Reds won 97 games. So I'm supposed to believe that if the Pirates just threw more money at the problem -- say, a $20 million augmentation to the big-league payroll -- they'd win 95?
No.
Baseball's economics are totally fucked, but that doesn't preclude anyone from competing if they're smart in how they spend. The Pirates are the most poorly run organization in all of professional sports for a reason. Part of that is Nutting's fault. He's made bad hires who have, in turn, filled the organization with bad hires. But I don't doubt for a second that different, smarter, more qualified people with the exact same resources given to Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington could succeed in making the Pirates both successful and profitable.

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