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McClatchy leaves losing legacy

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I'm not a Pirates fan.

Thank heavens.

Because if I were, I'd have endured 14 consecutive losing seasons, going on 15 this year (the team is 38-47), with no hope in sight. And I'd have a picture of Kevin McClatchy on my dartboard.

McClatchy is the wunderkind who led an ownership group that bought the Pirates more than 11 years ago, in February of 1996, rescuing the team from possible relocation. McClatchy was just 33 years old when he mustered the resources to purchase the team, and woe betide the lonely soul who didn't drink the Peter-Gammons-mixed Kool-Aid.

McClatchy was going to be the breath of fresh air the franchise needed, the antidote to threats from previous ownership. I remember Gammons waxing rhapsodic about McClatchy on ESPN, and in 1997, with a lowest-in-baseball $9 million payroll, the Pirates were in contention until the final week of the season (though they still only finished 79-83).

But under McClatchy, who was never the final baseball decision-maker but hired all the guys who were, the Pirates lost Jim Leyland as their manager (he's been to World Series with two different teams since then), dumped Aramis Ramirez's salary, chose Jason Kendall as the only guy they'd pay big money to (this just in: he's bad), and drafted an incredible litany of crummy players (Kris Benson was their first-round pick in '96; since then their first-round picks have been: J.J. Davis (#8 overall), Clinton Johnston (#15 overall), Bobby Bradley (#8 overall), Sean Burnett (#19 overall), John Van Benschoten (#8 overall), Bryan Bullington (#1 overall), Paul Maholm (#8 overall), Neil Walker (#11 overall), Andrew McCutchen (#11 overall) and Brad Lincoln (#4 last year, already had Tommy John surgery).) The cupboard in Pittsburgh may not be bare, but the Saltines are looking a little green.

And now, finally, Kevin McClatchy is resigning. He's 44 now, and never presided over a winning team. His latest general manager Dave Littlefield is considered one of the worst GMs in the game, though of course, he's been hamstrung by closed purse strings through his six-year tenure.

McClatchy did do one thing right, which is build a ballpark: PNC Park is gorgeous and whatever meager attendance the Pirates get can be at least partly attributed to their new digs. But there's the taint of failure about even that; after all, McClatchy persuaded the city to use public funds by claiming the team would be more competitive with the financial resources a new park would net them. Considering the team still operates with a $38.5-million payroll, which is the fourth-lowest in baseball despite revenue sharing, McClatchy hasn't delivered competitiveness through solvency, either.

He has, in short, been terrible. And now that he's getting out of the way, here's hoping a once-proud franchise can get it hands on a deep-pocketed owner who'll invest in the team. Pirates fans will come back, if the team's good. I'm just glad I'm not one of them.

We're at the midway point of the baseball season; which division leader is the biggest surprise to you? Do you think they'll keep it up and wind up taking their division crown?

The only team that wasn't supposed to be in the position they are now is the Milwaukee Brewers. When I see the Brewers in first place this late into the season, my first instinct is to say, "It can't last." They have a solid group of youngsters sprinkled with some seasoned veterans who should keep this team competitive until October, but beyond that is questionable. The Cubs have had some clubhouse fireworks, but they seem to be on the same page now, winning eight of 10, and could be the team to knock the Brewers out of first in what is seemingly baseball's weakest division.

Who would be your MVP of the American League and the National League at this point?

Sticking with the Brewers theme, the NL MVP would have to be Prince Fielder. Fielder has the Brewers in first place in only his second year, putting up the numbers that his pedigree would suggest. In the AL, based on numbers alone, A-Rod should have it locked up, but with the Yankees trailing division-leading Boston by a double-digit margin, Magglio Ordonez, Victor Martinez and Vladdy Guerrero have to be considered, as they're on teams leading or challenging for the division lead.

Who would be your CY Young winner in the AL and NL?

Dan Haren has been the best pitcher thus far in 2007. His 2.20 ERA is 0.40 runs-per-nine better than the second-best pitcher; his WHIP is under 1.00, and both of those numbers are ridiculous for any pitcher in the American League. Padre teammates Chris Young and Jake Peavy have been keeping San Diego at the top of the AL West; for the first-half award, I'll go with Peavy, as his stuff has been nasty all season long. Chris Young has been stepping up his game, and he may sneak past Peavy for the end-of-the-season award.

Finally, with the benefit of one-half of a season in the books, give us your World Series participants. Are your selections also the favorites of the betting world?

Boston is my choice, as well as the bettors' choice, to come out of the American League. They've slowed from their early-season pace, but they still withstood a strong run by the Yankees. And I'm picking the Mets to represent the Senior Circuit. In June, the Mets suffered through a horrible stretch of baseball but neither the Braves nor Phillies had enough to take the division lead. Most of the bettors are on the Mets as well, but the Cubs have been attracting some attention of late.

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