The Pirates haven’t had the best offseason from an optics standpoint. They traded the face of their franchise to the Giants, which prompted local businesses to pull ads from team owner Bob Nutting’s newspapers. Pittsburgh traded staff ace Gerrit Cole to Houston as well, and while those moves might make some baseball sense (the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers are tough divisional competition), some fans still felt the team wasn’t doing enough.
The MLBPA agreed, naming Pittsburgh as one of four franchises in their grievance filed over alleged misuse of revenue sharing funds.
So it’s a rough environment for the team, where any actions by ownership or the front office are going to be heavily scrutinized; in other words, there’s high blowback potential. That potential was realized when team president Frank Coonelly spoke at a Republican Party event on Thursday night. And it was very much in his role as team president, which was obvious by the presence of the Pirate Parrot.
Awaiting Kellyanne Conway at a Lincoln Day dinner outside Pittsburgh is the Pirates mascot. Frank Coonely, the team’s president, is speaking on behalf of GOP candidate Rick Saccone too. ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/rTGOK7RNXE
— James Hohmann (@jameshohmann) March 8, 2018
That tweet made it appear as though Coonelly was endorsing Rick Saccone (the Republican House of Representatives candidate in a hotly contested special election), which Coonelly was later forced to deny.
“I was asked to speak at an annual Spirit of Lincoln dinner hosted by the Allegheny County Republican Party months ago, and I was asked specifically to come and talk about 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates,” Coonelly told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a phone interview.
“I was happy to do so. So when I spoke to them, I was not there as an explicit or implicit endorsement of any candidate, of any slate, of any party, and I made it clear at the beginning of my remarks that particularly after our winter of discontent, I was not going to speak politics last night, because I need Democrats, Republicans and Independents to be excited about the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates and to come out to PNC Park and support our team.”
It’s that last point that’s interesting, because the reaction from fans would be no different had Coonelly spoken at a Democratic function; it may have been a different set of fans complaining, of course, but that’s not really the point. Coonelly clearly should have known how this would play, but when you find yourself having to say sentences like this, it’s pretty clear you hadn’t planned ahead well enough:
“Neither I, nor the Parrot, were promoting any candidate, any party, any political slate. We were there to get people in Pittsburgh excited about the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
It’s a real shame the Parrot was dragged into this.
[Post-Gazette, photo credit James Hohmann on Twitter]