Kevin McClatchy: Team Player

4.17.2013

By Jerry Portwood

For more than a decade, Kevin McClatchy, former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, feared someone would learn his secret. After coming out publicly, he wants professional sports to grow up.

After McClatchy decided to buy an interest in the Modesto A’s, the two men found themselves strategizing on how they could buy the Oakland A’s. “I thought he was crazy,” McClatchy admits. “We didn’t have that kind of money.” Although that deal fell through, it showed McClatchy a way that he might own a pro sports team and fulfill his childhood dream. So when the Pittsburgh Pirates came up for sale, he pounced. This time, with a consortium of investors and $95 million behind him, he was determined not to lose the deal. On February 14, 1996, McClatchy assumed the posts of CEO and managing general partner.

“Everybody was stunned,” his mother says. “Everyone thinks he was some rich boy who went out and bought a team, which isn’t true. The fact that he succeeded -- it was amazing.”

At 33, McClatchy was now the youngest manager of a professional baseball team. He joined an irascible bunch: George Steinbrenner, Ted Turner, Marge Schott. These people didn’t censor their thoughts, and they didn’t know (or care) much about this young interloper.

“The first time I met Marge, she turned and handed me her drink. I think she thought I was one of the busboys,” McClatchy says. “I grabbed her drink and I put it down, and then I tried it again.”

Despite the triumph, McClatchy was quickly tested when someone threatened to leak to the press that he was gay. “There was no question that it would have adverse effects in the ownership group,” McClatchy explains.

Investors might have recoiled, but the other team owners were also a political minefield, especially since a manager needs a majority of the 30 to be voted in. In case the news leaked, McClatchy finally came out to his older sister, Adair, and his mother.

She found his news difficult to digest. “First of all, I thought his life was going to be so difficult because he had to stay hidden,” Warnecke explains. “I suppose I had some little dream of him walking down the aisle, and grandchildren. But the upset -- that was very, very brief. I was perfectly OK with him being gay.”

She kept his secret. “People would come up and say, ‘Oh, he’s so cute. Now I have this daughter Peggy...’ but I knew he wasn’t going to be interested in Peggy. I finally invented an imaginary girlfriend in Chicago,” she says.

Pittsburgh is ferocious in its love of its sports teams, and McClatchy didn’t quite anticipate the amount of attention he’d receive. Women asked him to autograph their breasts—one even wrote and performed an “Ode to Kevin McClatchy.” People would stop him on the street to share their opinions on why the team continued its unfortunate losing streak. After the partners gathered finances to build a new stadium, PNC Park, which opened in 2001, it was hailed as one of the best ballparks in America. McClatchy enjoyed the limelight, but he found himself shrinking from public view. “For 15 years I probably didn’t go out to dinner,” he says. “Simple stuff you like and enjoy, I didn’t do it.”

Tags: Sports
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