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Cook: McClatchy villain in Pirates' demise

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Earlier this week, Brian Giles went public and practically called Kevin McClatchy an idiot. You might think Giles is an ingrate because McClatchy gave him a $45 million contract in May. I think Giles was too kind.

McClatchy deserves everything he gets.

No one has done more to contribute to this abomination of a Pirates season.

McClatchy bungled the Gene Lamont situation from day one. He all but said the Pirates had to compete for a playoff spot for Lamont to keep his job. He even tossed out 90 wins as a reasonable goal -- "as long as everything goes right."

Of course, everything didn't go right.

It never does.

But that hasn't stopped McClatchy from throwing Lamont to the team's angry fans as a human sacrifice.

Lamont deserves better.

"Unprofessional," is the word Giles used.

"To think this team had a chance to win 90 games, somebody must be dreaming a lot."

It doesn't give you much confidence McClatchy will hire the best man as his new manager, does it?

His big mistake happened in October when Lamont, going into the final year of his contract, came calling to ask for an extension. He had just finished his third season, so McClatchy knew what he had in a manager. Lamont's work the first year was terrific. The Pirates overachieved and hung in the division race until the final week. His second season was a disaster. The team quit on him, lost 25 of its final 30 games and nearly got him fired. His third season was better than anyone could have expected because the Pirates had an almost unbelievable run of injuries.

Lamont deserved a contract extension.

It's believed General Manager Cam Bonifay recommended one.

McClatchy said no and turned Lamont into Dead Manager Walking.

He and the Pirates would have been better off if he had fired Lamont on the spot.

Lamont's tenuous future was the topic of discussion, among fans and players alike, during spring training. So was McClatchy's talk of 90 wins. Lamont was tight. The team was tight. It started 9-15 and never recovered.

The atmosphere in the Pirates' clubhouse quickly went from bad to worse. None of the players has had any fun this season. Many wanted out. Some still do. Everybody can't wait for the final 11 games to be over.

That's no way to play.

That's the McClatchy Effect.

What's sad is he could have avoided a lot of this mess and given the Pirates their best chance of winning by giving Lamont a one-year extension. It's not as if Lamont makes $2 million a year. His salary probably is around $400,000. That's what Keith Osik makes. Even if McClatchy still decided to fire Lamont after this season, swallowing that $400,000 would have been far less painful than what he and his team have had to endure.

Lamont wouldn't have won 90 games under any circumstances. Connie Mack couldn't have won 90 with these Pirates, especially after Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova went down with arm injuries.

But the team wouldn't be one of the big jokes in baseball, either. Who knows? Maybe it even would have built a little momentum going into PNC Park next season.

It's too late to worry about that now.

What's important is that the Pirates end up with the right manager.

McClatchy won't call to ask for my advice, but I'll give it to him anyhow:

Don't ignore Bonifay's recommendation this time. Too much is at stake. If you're not completely confident in his judgment, you should fire him, too. But as long as he's your general manager, allow him to pick the new man. Allow him to make all of the baseball decisions. His track record is far from perfect, but he knows a lot more about the game than you've learned sitting behind home plate eating peanuts. Let him do his job and stay out of his way. There's no doubt you care deeply about your team. Don't allow your meddling to interfere with what's best for it.

Sadly, that won't help Lamont.

But it will give the next guy a chance to succeed.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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