(because no one wants to see another photograph of John Russell — least of all Pirates players or fans, here’s a snapshot of Darby Crash, instead)

After a 99 loss campaign in 2009, who amongst us wouldn’t have concluded the Pittsburgh Pirates were on the verge of a breakthrough 2010? I’m sure fans and pundits alike are shocked to see the Bucs at 20 games below .500 on the 18th of June, and as such, can fully sympathize with Pittsburgh ownership’s decision last October to give general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell one year contract extensions. Since the people of Pittsburgh are a hard-working, humble lot, it would’ve been unseemly for the Pirates to actually announce to the media that such extensions had been offered. Or perhaps it was an oversight amidst all the other important announcements a chronically last-place baseball franchise might have to make during the late autumn. EIther way, the Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook has little sympathy for all the pressures faced by the Pirates’ front office, insisting, “their professional sports record of 17-going-on-18 consecutive years of losing hasn’t happened by accident.”

Huntington and Russell were asked repeatedly about their contracts during the season, as was club president Neil Coonelly. They were put in the awkward position by Coonelly of, if not outright lying, bending the truth. The dishonesty was most disrespectful to the fans. Insulting, actually.

After someone squealed the news to FoxSports.com earlier Thursday, Coonelly was forced to make the announcement at the worst possible time. He and the organization look like fools.

Not surprisingly, Coonelly defended the extensions. He praised Huntington for the Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte trade, which brought Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen, and for finding gems Garrett Jones and Evan Meek from other clubs. “Neal had the tough assignment of turning over our roster and building the organization the right way at a time when he had very little to work with. He’s had great success in terms of scouting and drafting young players.”

As for Russell, Coonelly said, “John has a tremendous, intense passion for winning baseball and developing young players. He is an outstanding teacher. The players respect him, trust him and believe in his leadership.”

It might have been fine if that’s all Coonelly had said. But in the team’s announcement and a later interview, he said, “Contracts are irrelevant. If we believe someone isn’t getting the job done, a contract won’t prevent us from doing what needs to be done. We’ll make a change.”

The Pirates make what should be an exciting announcement about two key employees and their future. At the same time, they publicly bring up the possibility that one or both guys will be fired, maybe before their extensions even kick in.