McClatchy stepping down after 12 years running Pirates

Updated: July 6, 2007, 6:58 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Kevin McClatchy not only saved baseball in Pittsburgh as the Pirates' owner, he accomplished what was once seen as the impossible by getting a new ballpark built.

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McClatchy persuaded commissioner Bud Selig to bring the All-Star game back to town only 12 years after it was played there. He helped oversee one of the city's largest urban development projects in decades, the growth that's occurred around PNC Park and the Steelers' Heinz Field.

Only one thing went wrong: the Pirates never won under McClatchy.

McClatchy, a newspaper heir widely credited with preventing the Pirates from leaving Pittsburgh by assembling an ownership group in 1996 when no one else would, announced Friday he is stepping down as the team's chief executive officer at the end of the season.

The Pirates are on pace for a 15th consecutive losing season, one short of the major league record. If they do not have a winning record this season, it will be their 12th consecutive losing record under McClatchy.

"I take responsibility for the losing, that's probably in some ways reason for a change," McClatchy told The Associated Press. "It's good to turn the page, have a fresh perspective."

The 44-year-old McClatchy lost majority ownership stake in the club to West Virginia newspaper owner G. Ogden Nutting several years ago, and in January was supplanted by Nutting's son, Bob, as principal owner. McClatchy initially knew the elder Nutting through their newspaper ties and brought him into his ownership group.

"Why now? Because now is the right time," McClatchy said. "I remember a quote from a long time ago, [former Raiders coach] John Madden said you get about 10 years in the frying pan and then, after a while, you start to get burned out."

McClatchy, who grew up in the San Francisco area, became one of the youngest owners in major league history when his group officially completed the purchase in February 1996. The club -- formerly owned by a cross-section of Pittsburgh businessmen and corporations -- had been for sale for nearly 18 months, with cable TV magnate John Rigas unsuccessfully attempting to buy it before McClatchy stepped in.

"Kevin McClatchy saved the Pittsburgh Pirates," Selig said Friday in a statement. "He assumed control of the franchise amid considerable turmoil and during the worst economic period in baseball history."

Bob Nutting said the search wouldn't be limited to baseball executives, and that McClatchy's successor will have full control of the Pirates' front office. That executive's No. 1 objective, Nutting said, will be to bring a winning team to Pittsburgh.

McClatchy took months to assemble a group that finally bought the Pirates for about $95 million -- or about one-third the current value. At the time, no other group or individual was interested in buying the team. NL president Len Coleman helped guide McClatchy's group through the sale process so the team would not be forced to relocate.

"If it weren't for Kevin McClatchy, there would be no PNC Park -- and no Pittsburgh Pirates," former mayor Tom Murphy said upon leaving office last year.

While the Pirates stayed in Pittsburgh under McClatchy, they did not prosper on the field. McClatchy was not privately wealthy, and the club's payroll was annually among the lowest in the majors except for a brief period in 2001, when the Pirates moved into PNC Park. Building one of the majors' best ballparks will likely be viewed as McClatchy's chief accomplishment.

The Pirates have contended only once under McClatchy, in 1997 when a team with the majors' lowest payroll stayed in the NL Central race until the final week of the season until losing out to Houston.

McClatchy's reign also was marked by the departure of successful manager Jim Leyland, who wearied during four consecutive losing seasons from 1993-96, and a string of unsuccessful signings that included Derek Bell, Pat Meares and Kevin Young. The team also gave a far-above-market value $60 million deal to catcher Jason Kendall that still hasn't been cleaned off their books.

"Any organization, whether it's a baseball team or a grocery chain, having a CEO for 10 years generally is a long time," McClatchy said. "But I think we have done some good things, whether it's the ballpark, whether it's the North Shore development, the All-Star Game, keeping the team in Pittsburgh -- some things that are pretty good."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press