Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Kevin McClatchy: Evil or Just Stupid?

Putting aside for the moment the concept of the banality of evil, which would obviate the question, there are two alternative views about Mr. McClatchy. The first view, to the delight of just about every true baseball fan in Pittsburgh, was advanced yesterday by True Pittsburgh Guy Michael Keaton. That Keaton was biting the hand that fed him the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at yesterday's Opening Day debacle is not so much an example of Keaton's courage as it is an example of the license that movie stars enjoy, due to their vast wealth, to say whatever the hell they want to say whenever the hell they want to say it.

This view, favored by conspiracy theorists, holds that McClatchy and his evil puppetmasters in the Dark Tower in West Virginia, exploiting the naivete and gullibility of both the Pittsburgh populace and Major League Baseball, have devised a successful strategy for enriching themselves as baseball team owners without need for the one commodity that all baseball team owners have heretofore required: victories in baseball games. Instead of concentrating on victories, the owners of the Pirates have succeeded in leveraging the jewel of a baseball park that the taxpayers of Pittsburgh bought for them to create a profitable enterprise, with the help of savvy marketing and public relations.

A friend of mine told me once that you should never attribute to malice what could just as easily be attributed to ignorance. This more benign view of Pirates ownership hinges on the unlikely possibility that McClatchy actually believes this. (via Van Slyke)

The same questions could be posed about General Manager Littlefield, of course. I was listening to the weekly Baseball Prospectus podcast this morning and was amused to hear guest Sam Walker, author of Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe, joke that he approached Dave Littlefield last year and tried to convince him to acquire Doug Mientkiewicz because Walker had Mientkiewicz on his fantasy team, and Littlefield was the only GM dumb enough to play Mientkiewicz regularly at first base because of his superior defense. (The same arguments in favor of defense are now being used to justify playing time for Duffy and Cota over McLouth and Doumit, so Walker was clearly onto something.)

I can't offer a resolution to the evil-or-stupidity question other than to suggest that the Pirates front office seems to be amply supplied with both.

I am writing all of this philosophy today to distract myself from the necessity of describing yesterday's game, which I had the misfortune of attending with Zeke and Mrs. Price. It was an awful game, of course, but what I found more depressing than the events on the field was the passivity of the near-record crowd.

The Pirates are not even compellingly awful like the Royals. They are to baseball what Michael Bolton is to soul music, what Pizza Hut is to pizza, what Hormel is to chili. Zeke and I scream sarcastic epithets from Section 114--"Hey Kevin, sell!" "Mark Cuban!" "Free Craig Wilson!"--and people look at us as if we are insane.

We've become used to this by now. It has been so long since the Pirates played a meaningful game that Pittsburgh baseball fans--or at least most of the ones who attended Opening Day--have forgotten how to care. If an owner of a baseball team can neutralize caring and still draw people to the ballpark, he has indeed discovered the Rosetta Stone.


Anonymous Bones said...

Great post, Billy. I vote: Nuttings = evil, McClatchy = evil + stupid, DL = stupid. For ownership, I've provisionally rejected the ignorance-not-malice model, which predicts the Pirates' winning percentage would follow a random walk, occasionally spiking above .500.

12:55 AM  

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