Sunday, March 02, 2008

The New President of the Pittsburgh Pirates

His name is Frank Coonelly, and he's a very bright guy. He worked as a partner in a national law firm specializing in labor and employment law matters (where he represented Major League Baseball) and then moved to MLB to help counsel various groups within MLB, including the all-important Player Relations Committee. All the while, he performed very well.

He's now in his first year as President of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he's drawing great praise for his work to turn around the organization and instill an new attitude in a franchise that has had 15 straight losing seasons and hasn't had much to cheer about since before Barry Bonds signed with the Giants as a free agent. Read this article and see what I mean.

And I'm sure he'll do a good job, especially if the Pirates' ownership is willing to spend the money necessary to attract and retain outstanding talent on the field. Ask any business leader, and she/he will tell you that recruiting, developing and retaining outstanding talent is a key to an organization's success. Coonelly has taken steps on the recruiting part, at least in so far as he hired a new GM (right out of Cleveland's excellent front office) and has begun to revamp the scouting system (although it's arguable that the Pirates have developed better young starters in Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell than a majority of Major League teams). The big issue, of course, will be in recruiting free agents and in paying current players enough to stay away from free agency.

And that will be all about the bucks that the Bucs will permit Frank Coonelly to spend.

This issue reminds me of a passage from Mark Harris' great book, "The Southpaw," in which the protagonist and narrator, Henry Wiggen, is the young star pitcher for the fictional New York Mammoths. Wiggen recounted how the scouts descended upon his house after his senior year of high school around 1950 (when there was no draft).

"About a week afterwards, a man come from Cincinnati. He said he had signed up 25 young ballplayers between October and December. 'How much are you paying a young fellow to sign?' said Pop, and the man said he was not paying a cent except fare to spring training, and Pop said if Cincinnati had such splendid habits of saving money they might just as well save their breath besides because I was not signing up free like somebody's slave. The man hemmed and hummed and said he might pay 500 as a starter. Pop said he did not care where he started so long as he ended up at 5,000.

"'There are boys all over the land that would give their right eye to put their autograph on a Cincinnati contract,' the man said.

"'I am pleased to hear these remarks,' Pop said. 'I am sure you can win many pennants on sheer enthusiasm.'"

Mark Harris was right on more than 50 years ago. Enthusiasm only gets you so far. As Nobel laureate Val Fitch once said: "Excellence cannot be bought. But it must be paid for."

Frank Coonelly is a smart guy, and I'm sure that he didn't take the job in Pittsburgh if all that was promised was that the Pirates would take a Moneyball approach. After all, many teams have done that (the way NFL teams solved the 46 defense and learned to score on it), so that's not a novel approach and few teams really can get by and win without being in the top third of spenders in MLB. Which means, then, that the Pirates have probably committed to spending a significantly greater amount of money on players than they have in the past.

All of which bodes well for long-suffering Pirates' fans.

You have a great ballpark, and it's time to fill it up and hear the sounds of victory, to rekindle the echoes of greats like Stargell, Parker, Madlock, Easler, Sanguillen, Stennett and a whole host of other clutch players.

Watch out for the Pirates -- they may be onto something. Maybe not immediately, but don't expect them to be doormats in the NL Central for long.


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Buy Cialis said...

Well I guess he's a good guy and he's going to make a great job with the team, I heared that the guys really trust him too.
Let's give time to the time.
Good luck.