Andy Chomos remembers the days when the Pittsburgh Pirates were winners. He has fond recollections of watching the team win the 1979 World Series; he can even recall "bits and pieces" of the Pirates' 1971 World Series Championship, when he was 7 years old. But now, the local CEO is leading a rebellion against Pirates management. His group, Pirates Fans for Change (www.piratesfansforchange.com), organized a highly publicized walkout during a June 30 game at PNC Park. The results were less than successful, but Chomos says it was just the start of an ongoing revolt against an organization that seems more concerned with making money than with building a winning team.
How was being a Pirates fan as a kid different than it is now?
Back then we would collect baseball cards; we would sit in the evenings and listen to the radio broadcast. It wasn't uncommon just for a group of friends to sit around, listening to the radio with your baseball cards out, trading cards and reading statistics. People today are just casual fans. They don't hang on every pitch, trying to see what happens next.
How has your passion for Pirates baseball changed over the years?
I think, like everybody, my passion for Pirates baseball has been beaten down by so many years of losing. I'm about as optimistic a person as you're going to find, and even the eternal optimist eventually gets to the point where you're discouraged.
What disappoints you the most about the organization?
The fact that it seems content, that there's no sense of urgency about getting an improved product on the field. They've really settled into a complacency that gets frustrating.
The team is controlled by out-of-town ownership. They don't have the same passion as someone who has grown up watching the Pirates. I would definitely rather see someone with local ties assume ownership of the team.
How successful was the June 30 walkout?
I sincerely thought we were going to pull it off. We had 6,000 people in the stands with green protest shirts on. The problem is that half of those people never got up to join in the protest, and then another third of them got up at the wrong inning. There was confusion as to when they were supposed to be walking off.
What about the people at the game who didn't participate?
What we dealt with on June 30 was a Saturday-night crowd filled mostly with people who aren't paying attention to the game, don't know the facts, don't know the economics of baseball, and some of those folks chose to boo.
In my opinion, if you're unhappy with how baseball is being run in Pittsburgh, you had a great chance to make a statement, and you chose to pass on it. Not a lot of people have the guts to stand up and do something. It's probably not too difficult to find a bunch of people who are dissatisfied with the Pirates, but you know, put 10 Pittsburghers in a room and try to get them to agree on a way to express themselves and you'll have 10 different opinions.
What else is in store for Pirates Fans for Change?
We are scheduling an in-game event for Aug. 28. No more walk-offs; we're kind of over that. But we are going to show our solidarity to the ownership group. And we're going to let them know that there is a core group of several thousand Pirates fans that still are passionate about winning baseball in Pittsburgh.
What do you think about Kevin McClatchy stepping down as Pirates CEO?
First thing, there's a lot of appreciation for what Kevin McClatchy did for saving baseball in Pittsburgh. He stepped up and led an ownership group at the time when there really weren't any takers in the Pittsburgh marketplace. But on the flip side, it was under his leadership that these seasons of losing baseball have continued. Perhaps running baseball teams is not necessarily his strong suit.
Let's say McClatchy took over your position as CEO of Caracal, Inc. What would happen to the company?
My suspicion is it would be a profitable business, but it probably would not be one of the top five advanced-materials manufacturers in the country. Frankly, he's probably just as qualified to be an advanced-materials CEO as he is to be CEO of the Pirates.