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Easy Out

McClatchy was a bad owner ... until you think of all the others

We don't have Kevin McClatchy to kick around anymore.

I kinda wish Kevin had used that old Nixon line when announcing he would step down from captaining the Pirates' ship -- rather than offering such a measured, professional announcement.

But as we've all learned, Kevin McClatchy is no fun.

And honestly, it's no fun piling on him for the Pirates' losing ways, either. I always suspected he wanted to win, and simply didn't know how. He didn't surround himself with the sharpest baseball minds, and he didn't have the money to fix the mistakes his brain trust made. I hold out hope for the future, though Bob Nutting won't give anybody the warm fuzzies -- particularly if he continues to insult us by insisting that he cares about winning, while acting with complete indifference to the notion. A 19-year-old Alex Rodriquez could be available to him in the draft, and he'd likely go after a latter-day Jimmy Anderson instead.

Maybe that's too harsh. The Nuttings' plan may merely be sound financial planning. Maybe they're "flipping" the franchise: using surplus revenue to pay down the Pirates' debt, so they can sell it for more on the back end. They've denied putting money in their pockets today, but they could be building the value of the franchise to put money in their pockets down the road. As noted baseball sage Harvey Fierstein would say, is that so wrong?

Judging the ability and effort of a player is a straightforward thing. You can see when a fielder makes a brilliant throw, and when he goes to the wrong base. It's refreshingly uncomplicated. If a player isn't trying, we can tell. Judging the effort and intentions of owners and GMs is a much murkier endeavor, which is why it's much easier to vilify the suits.

Baseball has traditionally been run in backrooms, shrouded in secrecy, so by their very nature such machinations seem suspicious. Until recently, baseball execs somehow even managed not to notice how the NFL and the NBA were building their leagues through television exposure. The NFL draft is a two-day "must-see" television extravaganza -- no doubt it will soon come complete with dancers and a light show. Meanwhile, the NBA dominated the headlines before the draft even took place: Chatter on the television and radio airwaves and blogs was everywhere. How could the baseball men not notice this until 2007? And yet, they didn't. This is the first year that the baseball draft was televised, and they still have a long way to go to catch up to the big boys.

Baseball execs have never been the most visionary men. They always seem to be one step behind the times -- caught off-guard by desegregation, cocaine, steroids ...

Maybe that's why it's so easy to detest them. Or maybe we hate them because we watch sports simply to get away from the nagging financial details of our own lives -- keeping an eye on our retirement accounts so as not to end up like those poor folks at Enron, shopping around for car insurance, paying down student loans, trying to find e-savers. It's all so exhausting.

Flipping to the sports pages used to be a balm for that, so when cutthroat business practices are reported alongside the box scores, we resent it. We want to revel in meaningful baseball, simply keeping track of bunts and pitch-outs. So it's a real buzzkill to keep tabs on payroll. It's no fun to try to ferret out the profits, particularly when teams never open the books.

Some goodbyes are easier than others. Kevin McClatchy's isn't as easy as it should be -- not because of the person he is, but because of whom he leaves behind. It's even possible McClatchy was muzzled by the Nuttings, just as former Surgeon General Richard Carmona was by the Bushies.

The Nuttings are sitting on a good thing. PNC Park and the promotions are good for 20,000 fans a night, even with a comatose team. If the Pirates could finish a season at 82-80, they'd sell out nearly every night, with or without bobbleheads and fireworks. There's money to be made, and they know it. Welcome to the Nutting era.