Friday, October 1, 2010

Pirates fire AA coach, send more wrong messages to fans

By Jeff

One would think that an organization like the Pittsburgh Pirates, one that has had 18-consecutive losing seasons at the professional level, would reward winning.


Pirates management decided that it was the right decision to fire Class AA Manager of the Year Matt Walbeck Wednesday night. Walbeck and the Altoona Curve just won the Eastern League Championship and Walbeck won his fourth Manager of the Year award, the other three were in the Detroit Tigers organization.
Walbeck was not awarded with a
trophy, but with a pink slip.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was mum on details, but hinted that management thought Walbeck didn't "follow the prescribed development programs of the minor-league system." Sources in the article also said that Walbeck didn't communicate well with players or do enough work prior to games.

The move and explanation are just more ammunition for management's critics and not even I can begin to defend the move from the information presented. His team won the league's championship, he was voted the best manager, the team's ace Rudy Owens was voted the organization's minor league pitcher of the year and Alex Presley was vote the organization's minor league player of the year. Presley also made it to the majors in September, where he had a .286 batting average in 21 at bats. How can they say Walbeck wasn't communicating or that he hindered his players' development?

Once again, the public relations staff really messed this one up. Fans already have trust issues with this team. Most think the ownership doesn't care about anything but winning, and it's getting harder to deny that theory considering they fire the manager who won a championship in his league.

Knowing the Pirates, they won't give any more information on this matter. Instead, they are giving some pretty sketchy details and hope fans will trust that they are doing the right thing. News flash to the management team, you lost the fans trust a long time ago. You lied about extensions for Huntington and manager John Russell. Reports came out that you are turning a decent profit while the team continues to suck. You told us all you would bring a winning team to the Pittsburgh if you got a new stadium, which hasn't been close to happening since PNC Park opened. The list goes on. Fans need a better explanation than what you said.
Huntington tells Pirates fans he's committed
to winning, but has his fingers crossed.

If the Pirates were a successful or competent franchise, they could get away with firing Walbeck. If Ray Shero pulled a similar move in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, fans would sit back and trust Shero was doing what was best. The Pirates don't have that luxury. Fans see a winning, successful coach get canned, and they want answers that make sense.

Maybe Walbeck didn't follow the Pirates plan or development strategizes. So what? Whatever strategy they have hasn't been working. A new program is needed. They should have taken what Walbeck did with his team and explored how they could incorporate his plan at other levels. Does this mean Pirates fans will have to suffer another year of Russell? He has more than 300 losses as the team's manager, but he does exactly what management says and follows their development protocol.

Finally, how can this management team ever say they are serious about winning after this firing? Obviously winning is not their priority. It appears their priority is "do it our way or get out."

The Clash - Bank Robber


  1. I was reading an article about a week ago where Walbeck was being interviewed and they asked him his thoughts about potentially becoming the Pirates' Manager in the near future and it didn't seem that far out of the realm of possibility. I don't see how a team as bad as the Pirates have been with a history of developing players as poorly as they have can possibly think they can fire their Manager of the Year and think they need to provide no explanation as to why they did it when they need to get the fan base to buy into the idea that the future is coming, and we just need to trust them, but they make moves such as waiving Matt Capps, Re-signing Russell and Huntington secretly in the offseason and firing their Manager of the Year, all with no real explanation.

  2. It's just ridiculous. It seems like they dig themselves into a deeper PR hole with every decision they make. I've tried defending some of their moves, but this is impossible to defend.

  3. "Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was mum on details, but hinted that management thought Walbeck didn't 'follow the prescribed development programs of the minor-league system.'"

    I realize that the new regime's thing is their fancy development system that is customized to each player, but apparently winning a championship comes second to that. Moves like this just don't surprise me anymore. I'm glad that I gave up on this franchise a few years ago, because if I expected them to turn it around something like this would make me even angrier. I'm still a fan, but I don't expect anything positive to come in the next five years.

  4. Bob Smizik defended the move on his blog. He said a minor league manager's job is not to win, but to develop. Don't they kinda go together? If you are developing the talent well, I think that leads to wins. Maybe I'm stupid.

  5. Wow. I don't follow the inner working of the Pirates nearly as close as you guys do, but that is awful. Walbeck will no doubt be snapped up by some other organization to either manage in the minors at AA or AAA or even serve as a coach on a manager's staff at the major league level. Its sad to think the Pirates are more dysfunctional than the Orioles at this point.

  6. I'll actually be the dissenting opinion on this one. First off, I don't know why the Pirates don't have a PR staff because they botch all this stuff.

    I bet if Kyle Stark (head of minor league development) put a top 10 list of things that would make Altoona's season successful, a AA championship wouldn't make the list. In the Littlefield years, the minor league teams had great records, but those teams were stocked with career minor leaguers instead of prospects, so they did well. It's pretty common for minor league teams to do well without major league talent as long as they're stocked with journeymen. Here's a list of Altoona's last 1st place team, 2004, and tell me if you think this is a highly talented team If Josh Bonifay (Cam's kid) is getting 343 at bats, you have a problem.

    Easiest example I could give about "controlling the system" recently is Rudy Owens. His best stuff is mostly breaking pitches, although can hit 92 on the gun as a lefty. Think Zach Duke with better stuff. He (and all their pitchers) was forbidden to throw anything but fastballs in lower levels to work on control first and foremost. For a guy who doesn't have a great fastball, this hurt him. Now, he's repeating as minor league pitcher of the year (even though Bryan Morris gave him a good run).

    If Walbeck's "ambition" as he called it got in the way, it's easy enough to pitch a 28 year old in save situations or starting Crash Davis at catcher for wins. But wouldn't it better benefit the Pirate in the long run to let Jameson Tallion or Tony Sanchez get those opportunities?

    That's why I don't think this is nearly as big of a deal as it's being made out to be. At first, I was pretty mad, but after all the extra info came out, this made a little more sense to me.

    Now, saying they couldn't find a spot for Walbeck because of no openings when Russell probably won't be back, that's just silly. Also, Walbeck saying he was let go because he was too ambitious, to me, is kinda like saying in a job interview that your major fault is that you "work too hard."

    Go ahead and tear me apart now, I'm kinda expecting it.

  7. Mike, you know more about our minor league system than I do and you bring up some good points. The last example of playing Crash Davis I agree with in theory, but it's not Walbeck's job to promote Taillon or Sanchez to Altoona.

    I have never heard of any hitters that Walbeck had and I've only heard of a few of the pitchers. I looked into it and the team had one pitcher that was over 25 years old (Derek Hankins, who only received seven starts despite putting up great statistics in the bullpen). There was a little more veteran leadership in the field, but no younger players were shut out of roles filled by veterans. The entire starting infield was 24-years-old or younger, a 27-year-old and a 26-year-old catcher split time behind the plate, and a 27-year-old named Miles Durham started most games in right field.

  8. Forgot to add this onto my comment.

  9. Yeah you're completely right that my example doesn't really apply to this instance. I would say however, that many of these guys won the high A championship with Lynchburg. So you could argue the players are the only reason for the wins this year. Last year when he had crap on the team, they were about 20 games under .500. In both these example, the manager doesn't have much influence in either instance.

    If the goal in the minor leagues is to win instead of doing everything possible to make the guys better baseball players, why not send Pedro, Tabata, Walker, McDonald, etc... back to AAA until they with a championship. I guess that's kind of how I look at it.

    This isn't the first time Walbeck has won manager of the year, and then promptly lost his job. I think people just need to consider that maybe there really is some substance to this, even if the Pirates have no clue how to handle PR.

  10. I just read that article you linked to after posting this, and that's more or less what I'm getting at. We don't really know what happened, but maybe it is justified. People don't trust the Pirates, but I tend to judge them on everything now since Coonelly/Huntington were hired, so I'm more forgiving than most.

  11. One more thing I keep forgetting to point out. Please note that Weiser may have written the longest sentence ever seen in the English language.

  12. I understand that winning at the minor league level isn't everything, but it's still something. The minor league level is primarily about developing talent, but it can also be a place where players learn how to win. I would have liked to see Alvarez and Tabata win at the minor league level because I really think it would be beneficial to them at the major league level. They would have an attitude of, "This team has sucked for 18 years, but WE'RE different...WE'RE winners." Sure the players have sucked for the last two decades, but I really think the poor attitudes contribute to the equation when you have veterans like Jason Kendall telling people, "Welcome to Hell" when they arrive to the team.

    I read Weiser's comment and didn't even notice how long it was. You don't see a 103 word sentence every day. Let's call Guinness.

  13. Weiser makes a comment for the first time on this blog, and then you guys rip him. If he never comments again, it's on you two.

    Anyway. Mike, winning titles is not the No. 1 priority for minor leagues. I don't think it should be. But it comes back to trust. You're trusting that the Pirates know how to develop talent the right way and believe them when they say Walbeck wasn't doing what was best for the players.

    As you said, we don't know everything. It could be that Walbeck has the right approach and the Pirates don't. I'm not saying that's true, but that's what it comes off as when you see a 105-loss team without any hope for the next few years.