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Robert Nutting: A Shell of a Salty Owner

By: Andy Kopel

Bob Nutting is an example of how perception and reality merge in sports. He is flat out cheap. Nutting became the sixth principal owner and chairman of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007, and has frugally represented his family's interest in the club since 2002. Not a poor businessman, and not necessarily a miser on the charity side, he nonetheless has been a scourge to Pirates fans.

“Pittsburgh is a baseball town that is being destroyed by a greedy owner.” That is the first sentence of a petition started on Change.org to encourage Major League Baseball to force Bob Nutting to sell the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates, a once-proud organization, which has had its fleeting moments with top-tiered ballplayers, is now the epitome of a rudderless and engineless canoe and the fault lies with Bob Nutting. Outside of one tide of winning ball that lasted from 2013-2015 and a mediocre 2018, Nutting has fielded a losing Pirates team every single season. That alone is not why he is a horrible owner.

Throughout MLB history, the league has had its share of lovable losers, and the clinically incompetent. In most cases the will was present, however Nutting’s Pirates suck consistently because of the complete and utter lack of hope inspired by their owner, a grinch for all baseball seasons past, present and future. There is no antidote to Nutting, no miracle cure; he’s going nowhere. He continues to cry poor year after year and that eliminates any chance of spending to improve the team. Consistent with his unyielding desire to put profits ahead of a competitive product on the field, he is often ranked in both the local press and nationally as one of the worst owners in sports, earning the nickname "Bottom-Line Bob.”

Despite being the 10th richest owner in MLB, the Pirates have constantly been in the bottom third of payroll under his direct ownership. Nutting has turned the team of Roberto Clemente, Dave Parker, Barry Bonds, and Andrew McCutchen into a last resort for free agents willing to sign on the cheap just to continue playing baseball. Nutting has final say over all matters having to do with the team. This includes everything from who manages the team to the disastrous decision to gut Legacy Park, home to a collection of Negro League statues, in 2015. At every turn, Nutting has failed Pirates fans, the people of Pittsburgh, and his own players.

Nutting is rolling in the dough despite his unwillingness to invest in his team. He can’t be a complete jerk; Nutting is chairman of the Pirates' philanthropic affiliate, Pirates Charities, which constructs baseball and softball fields for youth in the Pittsburgh region, in addition to supporting other community organizations. Bob Nutting has a heart. He just has no baseball soul. He has been the subject of harsh criticism due to trades made in the 2017-2018 offseason, moving pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros, and center-fielder Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants in an apparent fire sale. Following the two trades, Pirates fans began signing a petition on Change.org forcing Nutting to sell the team to someone who would make the team more competitive. The trades, along with similar trades made that offseason by the Miami Marlins, has led to the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to investigate both teams on whether or not they are using their revenue sharing funds to improve the team's on-field performance, as required in the current collective bargaining agreement.

Pirates chairman Bob Nutting is the fourth-least popular owner in the majors, according to a poll conducted by FanGraphs. On a 1 to 5 scale, with five being the best, Nutting drew a rating of 2.

In July 2007, six months after Nutting became principal owner, Sports Illustrated ranked him the fifth-worst owner in the majors.

In April of 2017, the Pirates were valuated at $1.25 billion. A lot of that had to do with the boom period that all of baseball is enjoying (their valuation is still good for just 17th in the league), but the fact is that anybody who bought into the Pirates in 1996 and stayed until 2018 will be handsomely rewarded for their investment. That is Nutting’s job, and he has done it well. It's easy to look back at those three winning seasons and question how things might be different were it not for Nutting’s penny-pinching. No denying that this team is in a better place financially than it was when Nutting took the helm. The scrooge is good at accounting. He’s just horrible for the fans.

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