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September 27, 2012
On the Beat
McClatchy Comes Out
The best thing about Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania is their small-town qualities. People are generally friendly, hospitable to strangers, and there to lend a hand in time of need. In the 22 years I covered the Pirates as a newspaperman, I encountered countless players who felt as if they were being banished to the end of the Earth when they were first traded to Pittsburgh but were emotional about leaving when they were inevitably traded.
It's a city and a region that grows people, especially once folks come to the realization that the steel industry—for the most part—packed up and left three decades ago. The sky is no longer dark 24 hours a day, and streetlights aren't needed during daytime.
The bad part about Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania is also their small-town qualities. People love to know each other's business; it is called being "nebby" in the region (as in, "Mind your own business and quit being nebby").
So while the rest of the world may have been surprised when former Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy revealed to the New York Times last weekend that he is gay, it was pretty old news in my part of the world. McClatchy's sexual orientation was one of those things that everyone knew but nobody talked about.
In the few days that have passed since McClatchy's revelation, I have been asked why none of us who covered the Pirates ever wrote about the owner being gay. On the surface, that may seem like a very complex question that would take many paragraphs to answer. The funny thing, though, is that it isn't a tough question. The simple answer is that it didn't matter what McClatchy did in his private life, and it never had an impact on the team's performance on the field or how he operated the Pirates.
Until now, McClatchy's claim to fame is that he was the youngest owner in major-league history when he gained control of the team the day spring training began in 1996. He was 33 years old at the time and, to ensure the Pirates would stay in Pittsburgh, he worked tirelessly to put together a group of investors to buy the team from the public/private coalitions that had operated the Pirates for the previous 10 seasons.
The Pirates didn't win during McClatchy's 11 years as principal owner; following the 2006 season, current owner Bob Nutting pushed him out. In fact, McClatchy's reign was just part of a string of losing seasons that seems fairly certain to reach the not-so-nice round number of 20, a major North American professional sports record.
McClatchy's greatest contribution during his ownership period was undoubtedly overcoming many obstacles to get the state funding necessary for PNC Park to be built and opened in 2001. Whether you are for or against tax money subsidizing professional sports franchises, there is no denying that PNC Park is one of the crown jewels among major-league stadiums, and the presence of PNC and the NFL Steelers' Heinz Field has sparked a wave of construction on Pittsburgh's North Shore that includes a casino, three hotels, and a number of office buildings.
However, what really stood out to me about McClatchy's time as owner—other than the fact he never found a veteran mentor to teach him the ins and outs of running a franchise—was his passion for the game. Even though he grew up in Sacramento as a Giants fan, he lived and died with the Pirates from his seat right behind home plate and took it to heart when his organization was criticized. We had some battles over things I wrote—and they sometimes got heated because, after all, he's an Irishman and I'm an Italian—but his heart was always in the right place. It's a stark contrast to the way the Pirates are now run now, with the dispassionate Nutting holding majority ownership.
It is hard to know what impact, if any, McClatchy's coming out will have on the tolerance of gays in professional sports. He isn't in the spotlight anymore, and he wasn't a well-known figure outside Pittsburgh.
It is easy to say McClatchy could have made more of a difference revealing his private life when he was an active owner. Yet it is also difficult to blame him when you consider the climate at the time. Some of the players in his own team's clubhouse reveled in referring to McClatchy as the "fag owner."
So far, no active player in any of the major sports leagues—MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL—have come out of the closet, though it seems certain that there have to be some gay athletes in those entities. There was a hot and heavy rumor making the rounds two years ago that a prominent major-league player—one who was never named—was going to reveal he was gay, then backed off at the last moment.
McClatchy is out now, though, and it is much to his credit. Even out of the spotlight, it had to take a lot of courage to do such a thing in a world where tolerance is improving, but not to the point where gays are openly accepted in pro sports.
A few minutes with Indians manager Manny Acta
On why the Indians went from 3 ½ games out of first place in the American League Central in late July to having one of the worst records in the major leagues: "When people say pitching and defense wins championships, it doesn't mean bullpen and defense. The part of the pitching staff that has been consistently good for us has been the back end of the bullpen. We all know, though, that when people talk about pitching and defense, they mean starting pitching, too, and our guys haven't stepped up and gotten it done this season. We got away with a poor run differential for a while, but it eventually caught up with us."
On how difficult it has been to have such a poor final two months: "I can sit here and talk about all these numbers that explain why our record isn't very good, but the tough part of the job is trying to keep these guys positive. It's not because they can't play. Their heads are spinning looking for a solution, but those of us who know the numbers knew we needed to improve in certain areas and we didn't. We actually got worse. We expected more from the starting pitching, and the same with the offense. You can expect all you want and project all you want, but you can't predict anything. This season hasn't turned out the way any of us expected."
On why he believes the Indians can be substantially improved in 2013: "We have a good core up the middle. We're solid up the middle. The catching situation, the shortstop and second base situation, we feel we'll be OK. Getting (right-hander) Carlos Carrasco back next year after he missed the season with Tommy John surgery will add a lot to our pitching staff, and we all know that Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are better than that, better than the way they've pitched this season. We also need some of our players, especially pitchers, from within the organization to develop. We have some talent here, but we need better performance."
On why he believes Jimenez is ready for a bounce-back season next year: "His stuff has been more consistent this year, velocity-wise. You have to understand he's not the guy at Colorado who was pitching at 97-99 mph with his fastball, but he still has pretty good stuff. The last two months, he's been right in the thick of things with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, and all the other pitchers who are the leaders in SO/9, but what has hurt him is BABIP. I don't necessarily believe in luck, but that's what they call it with BABIP, and it's clear Ubaldo has been unlucky. He needs to improve his command. He's giving up a lot of home runs, which doesn’t help. But he has the stuff. We all see that."
Marlins reliever Heath Bell: "The guy has some balls, I'll tell you. He's been a high-priced flop this season, yet he goes on the radio and blasts his manager. Look in the mirror, big boy."
Royals left-hander Bruce Chen: "He's a key guy for the Royals, but it's stretching it to ask him to be a No. 1 or a No. 2. Put him at third or fourth in the rotation and he'd win his share of games."
Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish: "He's been coming up with little aches and pains, and I'd be nervous if I were the Rangers. I think they'll have a hard time winning it all if he's not at something close to 100 percent and pitching well come the postseason."
Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia: "He's throwing the ball well lately. His changeup has been outstanding, and his fastball has had excellent movement. That's a good sign for the Cardinals heading into the postseason."
Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt: "He's had his ups and downs, but he's a young guy, and I think he's going to be a difference-maker in that lineup for many years."
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez: "He's going to have to learn to play in a big market. He didn't like Boston, and now he's having trouble adjusting to Los Angeles, which is a lot softer market when it comes to the media. He needs to realize he's not playing in San Diego anymore and toughen up."
Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Gose: "He's got the tools to be a good major-league center fielder, especially with his speed and arm. That being said, I don't think he's ready to hit consistently at the major-league level yet, and I'd start him off at Triple-A next season."
Angels right-hander Zack Greinke: "He's been ringing that cash register the last couple of weeks. I wasn't 100 percent sure he would get a $100-million contract before, but I am now, with the way he's finishing the season."
Athletics first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss: "I know he's taken some heat for his defense at first base, but that's not his position. He's an outfielder, and it's tough to learn a new position at the major-league level."
Rays left-hander David Price: "For me, he's the American League Cy Young Award winner. He's been durable and dominant."
Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario: In that ballpark, he's going to hit a lot of home runs, and his power plays so well that they can move him to one of the corner positions and easily keep his bat in the lineup."
Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez: "He's come up some outstanding performances in September, and he could give them a good No. 3 starter in the postseason behind Verlander and Scherzer."
White Sox right-hander Hector Santiago: "This poor kid was way in over his head making a start in the middle of a pennant race (on Wednesday night). He's got some potential, but he wasn't ready to start a big game."
Padres closer Huston Street: "One of the best moves the Padres made this season was giving him a two-year extension. A young team needs to win the games it should win to gain some confidence, and he gives them a chance to close out most games."
Mets third baseman David Wright: "Some of us were talking about the greatest players in Mets history the other day and where he fits into the picture. He might not be the best, but he certainly has to be considered."
Front-office types’ views
Astros: "If the Astros asked for my advice, I'd have them skip Bo Porter and hire Davey Martinez as manager. He's learned at the foot of the master in Joe Maddon as the Rays' bench coach, and he's ready for the chance to run his own team."
Braves: "So much for all those people who wanted Fredi Gonzalez's head on a platter after they collapsed last season. He's a good manager and he's done a good job running that club this season, even though they've struggled to score runs at times."
Brewers: "I give them a lot of credit. They made a nice little run at the end of the season when it would have been easy to give up a long time ago. That says a lot about the character of that club."
Cubs: "They've done the right thing this season, especially in the second half. They've given a lot of opportunities to young players, and that's going to allow them to start determining who they can and can't count on in the future and move along the rebuilding process."
Giants: "Deciding not to bring Melky Cabrera back for the postseason was a great decision. They've been winning without him, and putting him back on the roster would have been a massive distraction at a time of the year when you can't afford to have distractions."
Mariners: "That offense is just brutal. They don't hit in the clutch, they don't make contact, and they don't have any grasp of situational hitting."
Nationals: "The thing that impresses me about them is they hit for power and they play in a park that's tough for hitters. They have guys who can hit the ball out of the park up and down the lineup, and that will make them a tough out in the postseason."
Orioles: "You can't give Dan Duquette enough credit. He took that GM job when no one else wanted it and ran with it. For as much as he got beat up in Boston, people forget he's a good baseball man."
Reds: Chris Speier has done a great job keeping things together since Dusty Baker became ill. I think he's opened some eyes around baseball and will get some consideration when manager jobs open at the end of the season."
Red Sox: "I never thought they would get desperate enough to draw fans that they would have to honor the 2004 World Series team in a year that isn't even a significant anniversary. That tells you how much people are turned off in New England by that circus."
Twins: "They've been playing with a little spark at the end of the season, but I still think they need to make some big changes to that roster over the winter."
Yankees: "Joe Girardi has been forced to ride that bullpen hard down the stretch, and you wonder how much some of those guys will have left for the postseason."
This week's Must Read, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal ranks the objectivity level of all 30 major-league teams' televisions announcers.