Once the legendary team of Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and “Pops” Willie Stargell, the Pittsburgh Pirates in recent years have come to achieve a different sort of celebrity. In 2011 they logged their 19th consecutive losing season—more than any major professional sports team in North America. Yet Robert Nutting ’84, who became the team’s principal owner in 2007, believes he can restore the Pirates to their former glory.
As head of the 122-year-old Wheeling, W.Va.-based Ogden Newspapers, Nutting has always felt an affinity for the 125-year-old Pirates franchise less than 50 miles away. “They needed a tremendous amount of work,” he recalls. “But I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of working with businesses that were broken and finding opportunities to fix and rebuild them.”
To that end, Nutting has focused on drafting talented amateurs over buying high-priced superstars and to redirect money to player development. He built a training and education facility in the Dominican Republic to attract up-and-coming Latino players and signed Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel—the first Indian citizens to sign a contract with an American sports team—after spotting the two in a “Million Dollar Arm” baseball-pitching contest overseas.
After flirting with first place in the National League’s Central Division in 2011 but fading down the stretch, the Pirates had a 38-34 record as of June 26 this year and were in second place in their division. The team welcomed more fans in 2011—1.94 million—than in any other year in the previous decade. And, true to his promise at the start of the 2012 season, Nutting opened his wallet to sign All-Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and made a trade for pitcher A.J. Burnett.
“I brought long-term, strategic goals to the Pirates,” Nutting says, “and my hope is to build something my kids are proud of.”