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Walbeck's coaching future in doubt after getting fired as Braves minor league manager
July 7, 2011 - Cory Giger
Former Curve manager Matt Walbeck is out of a job again, and once again the circumstances are highly unusual.
It's very rare for a minor league manager to be fired during the season, but that's what happened to Walbeck on Thursday. He was dismissed as manager at Single-A Rome (Ga.), and the Atlanta Braves are being tight-lipped about why -- just like the Pirates were when they chose not to renew Walbeck's contract two weeks after he led the Curve to the 2010 Eastern League title.
"Basically due to philosophical differences, we felt like it was important to make a change for our Rome club at this time," Braves player development director Kurt Kemp said by phone.
Kemp would not provide more insight when pressed to explain those differences or reveal any details about the Walbeck situation.
"I'm not really gonna discuss it; I think that's fair," Kemp said. "That's the true position, and there's nothing else I'm gonna really say about it."
Walbeck did not return a phone message from the Mirror seeking comment. He was replaced at Rome by Rick Albert, a longtime coach in the Braves' organization.
There's one big difference between Walbeck's situation this season and last. He oversaw the best team in Curve history a year ago, but this season his club has endured major problems.
Rome entered play Thursday night tied for the worst record among all full-season professional teams at 28-56 (a lowly .333 winning percentage matched by Double-A Carolina). The Braves went 25-45 in the first half of South Atlantic League play and are 3-11 this half.
Walbeck, a major league catcher from 1993-2003, had a tough time landing a job after getting let go by the Pirates last year. He attended baseball's winter meetings in search of an opportunity but came up empty.
The Braves had a late opening at Rome when Paul Runge, who was to manage the team, left to take a job with the Houston Astros. Walbeck was hired by the Braves on Jan. 7, but the job meant he would be taking a big step back in the minor leagues.
Rome is a low-A team, two levels below the Curve. It was an even bigger step back considering Walbeck had been in the major leagues in 2008 as the Texas Rangers' third base coach. He also was fired from that job after the season.
When he got hired for the Rome job, Walbeck said: "I'm looking at it more now as an opportunity to be with a successful organization, and it gives me a chance to grow with their younger players, and wherever it takes me is where it's gonna take me."
There's no telling where Walbeck's coaching career will take him now.
He's won three league titles and four manager of the year awards in his career. But he's also been fired twice in nine months and three times in less than three years.
Pirates officials never confirmed it or spoke poorly about Walbeck, but sources told the Mirror that he had poor communication skills and could be difficult to work with for members of the organization.
With that reputation and his recent difficulty hanging on to jobs, Walbeck might have a tough time finding an employer in organized ball that's willing to give him a high-profile position.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and email@example.com.