Former Pirate minority owner Jay Lustig gave an interview to the Tribune Review in a story that was published late last night in which he gave some perspective on Bob Nutting's reign as owner of the Pirates. I'd recommend reading the whole thing, but the key passage is this:
“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.”
Lustig goes on to say that, basically, he wishes the Pirates were owned by a real life equivalent of Jed Clampett; some crazy old man willing to throw away his substantial life savings on making the Pirates a winning baseball team.
Let me be clear: obviously, what Lustig wants is what every Pirate fan wants. I would love (love love love love) to live in a universe where the Pirates could be on equal footing with the Yankees in the same way that the Steelers are on equal footing with the Cowboys and the Penguins are on equal footing with the Rangers. I would also love to never have to worry about grant money and for all of my experiments to always work on the first try. The problem is that (and here I'm going to pull out the biggest dork card in my arsenal) as Dumbledore once told Harry Potter, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."
Who are these small market owners that operate with no regards to profit? Some of the best small market teams (Tampa Bay, Oakland) operate on much tighter budgets than the Pirates. The Reds and Brewers are similar teams to the Pirates and they both seem to have hit functional payroll caps in the ballpark of $90-100 million. This seems like a lot more money than the Pirates spend right now, but it won't when Andrew McCutchen's extension really kicks in and Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez hit arbitration.
Let's imagine that there is a billionaire that wants to call the Pirates. Let's give him a crazy name, like, say, "Mark Pork Ham And Swiss With Pickles And Yellow Mustard." Now, Mark PHASWPAYM has a ton of money and he even owns a successful NBA team, maybe the Mallas Davericks. How did he make that NBA team successful? It wasn't by pumping tons of money into the team at personal detriment to himself, it was by figuring out what other NBA teams were doing wrong and trying to do those things better than everyone else. Why on earth would we expect that Mr. Pork Ham And Swiss With Pickles And Yellow Mustard would run his baseball team differently?
The Pirates' problem is this: in order to compete as a small market team, you have to be smarter and better than everyone else and I'm not sure that the Pirates are. They very honestly might have been if they'd been hired in 2001 instead of Dave Littlefield, but the way baseball teams are run has changed enormously in the last decade and the Pirates have been consistently behind the curve. Right now, the Pirates are followers in an arena where they need to be revolutionaries. The Yankees can afford to be behind the curve, but the Pirates just can't.
It seems to me that our time as Pirate fans would be better spent wishing that the Pirates would find their own Andrew Friedman or Jeff Luhnow and less time hoping for The Perfect Owner to buy the team.