Like robber barons of old, Robert Nutting and his ownership group are pocketing large sums of money while the fans that support the Pittsburgh Pirates watch their team continue a streak of haplessness that has now extended into its 18th season. According to documents obtained by the , the Pirates made $29.4 million in profits during the 2007 and 20o8 seasons while they won a combined 135 games.
“The numbers indicate why people are suspecting they’re taking money from baseball and keeping it — they don’t spend it on the players,” said Berri, the author of two books detailing the relationship between finances and winning. “Teams have a choice. They can seek to maximize winning, what the Yankees do, or you can be the Pirates and make as much money as you can in your market. The Pirates aren’t trying to win.”
The Pirates clearly weren’t interested in winning during this time period. While they have made some strides in spending on the draft (signing Jameson Taillon for $6 million and Stetson Allie for $2 million) they have traded or allowed nearly every potential all-star or decent player leave the team. As noted in the ESPN/AP article:
[T]he Pirates have shed former All-Stars Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson in trades, along with nearly every other player who was arbitration eligible — or close to it — or free agency: Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, John Grabow, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Ronny Paulino and Sean Burnett.
They also dealt slugger Jose Bautista to Toronto for a backup catcher who has since left their system, and cut NL All-Star closer Matt Capps without getting anything in return because he sought a $500,000 raise.
The Pirates have seen gate receipts decline considerably since PNC Park opened, due in large part to the idiotic philosophy they have embraced. Fans would come to games if they believed the team could win and if ownership was building a team that could compete. While the Pirates seem to be changing the culture around the team lately, as evidenced by the willingness to spend money on the draft, it will take years for those draft picks to make an impact. In the meantime, Pirates fans will watch their team stretch their streak of losing seasons to 20 or more.
The fact that the team appears uninterested in winning and takes the revenue sharing money, paid to MLB by teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox, to pad their accounts is unconscionable. While the team is a business, I don’t begrudge them making profits, to make profits that large while the team flounders is crazy. Owning a sports franchise is different from owning a business of any other variety. Sports franchises and their owners have a duty to the fans that support the team. They need to reinvest revenue from the team in an attempt to build a winner. A winning team will in turn beget more revenue. Like other businesses sports teams depend on sales to bring in revenue. Unlike other businesses, sports teams represent communities; they give people a common cause to rally around. They allow people to live vicariously through their on-field heroes; while many of us can only dream about playing baseball or any other sport at the highest level, cheering for those players that represent us is nearly as exciting.
As a baseball fan, I hope that this information leak will force Nutting and his ownership group to spend more money on returning a once proud franchise to glory.