PITTSBURGH (AP) -Kevin McClatchy, a newspaper heir who likely prevented the Pirates from leaving Pittsburgh by assembling an ownership group in 1996, is stepping down as the team's chief executive officer at the end of the season.
The Pirates are on pace for a 15th consecutive losing season, one short of the major league record. If they do not have a winning record this season, it will be their 12th consecutive losing record under McClatchy.
McClatchy lost majority ownership stake in the club to West Virginia newspaper owner G. Ogden Nutting several years ago, and in January was supplanted by Nutting's son, Bob, as principal owner. McClatchy, who initially knew the elder Nutting through their newspaper ties and brought him into his ownership group, remained as chief executive officer.
``It was a difficult decision, but in the end I felt the time was right to step down as the day-to-day leader so the organization can move forward with a fresh perspective,'' McClatchy said in a statement.
The 44-year-old McClatchy became one of the youngest owners in major league history when his group officially completed the purchase in February 1996. The club - formerly owned by a cross-section of Pittsburgh businessmen and corporations - had been for sale for nearly 18 months, with cable TV magnate John Rigas unsuccessfully attempting to buy the club before McClatchy stepped in.
Bob Nutting said McClatchy's departure at the end of the season will give the franchise plenty of time to ``conduct a thorough search ... give us an opportunity for a smooth transition into a new chapter of the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.''
McClatchy took months to assemble a group that finally bought the Pirates for about $95 million - or about one-third the current value. At the time, no other group or individual was interested in buying the team and NL president Len Coleman guided McClatchy's group through the sale process so the team would not be forced to relocate.
While the Pirates stayed in Pittsburgh under McClatchy, they did not prosper. McClatchy was not privately wealthy, and the club's payroll was annually among the lowest in the majors except for a brief period in 2001, when the Pirates moved into PNC Park. Building one of the majors' best ballparks will likely be viewed as McClatchy's chief accomplishment.
The Pirates have contended only once under McClatchy, in 1997 when the lowest-paid team in the majors stayed in the NL Central race until the final week of the season until losing out to Houston.
McClatchy's reign also was marked by the departure of successful manager Jim Leyland, who wearied during four consecutive losing seasons, and a string of unsuccessful signings that included Derek Bell, Pat Meares and Kevin Young. The team also gave a far-above-market value $60 million deal to catcher Jason Kendall that still hasn't been cleaned off their books.
``Finding a new leader of the organization is the most important decision I will make in my first year as the principal owner of the franchise,'' Nutting said.
McClatchy had no baseball background when he bought the Pirates and, except for a brief period when Dick Freeman was brought in as club president, he never had a baseball executive in a day-to-day leadership role.
McClatchy served on several major league ownership groups, including its executive council and international and labor committees.

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