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What really happened: Why Walbeck was let go and Huntington Q&A

September 30, 2010
By Cory Giger, cgiger@altoonamirror.com

UPDATE: I have spoken with two former Curve players, one who ripped Walbeck and one who was complimentary. I also have spoken with many other sources and will have a complete update a little later.

Some of what's being reported is total nonsense, like a source telling the Post-Gazette that Walbeck didn't do enough early work with the players. That's preposterous. If anything, many players have been upset the past two years about doing way too much early work. So you see, the whole truth may never come out in this story.

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It's simple and complicated why the Pirates decided to cut ties with Curve manager Matt Walbeck.

The simple part is this: He wanted a job above Double-A, having just won a championship with the Curve, and the Pirates didn't have one for him. Walbeck didn't even get a chance to talk with the organization about any specific jobs before they informed him Wednesday night that his contract would not be renewed.

Now, the complicated part: Why didn't the organization have an upper-level job for a manager who has won three league titles and four manager of the year awards? Hasn't he proven himself enough to warrant that and see what he can do in Triple-A or higher?

The Pirates do not think so, and they are not explaining why.

The Mirror spoke with both general manager Neal Huntington and farm director Kyle Stark on Thursday, and each declined to offer specifics about what it is in Walbeck's performance that prevented them from promoting him to a higher level.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited an anonymous source saying the organization wasn't happy with a few things:

From the P-G:

"The Pirates apparently had issues with Walbeck in terms of his communications with staff and players. That was the No. 1 influencing factor here. No specific examples were given, but it's always been very important to this management team to have cohesion in the area of instruction and development, so that prospects can progress steadily through the system without having to adjust to new styles or terminology."

Following is my Q&A with Huntington:

Q: Can you give any reason or indication of what went into the decision to not bring Walbeck back?

A: We obviously have our reasons, and there's no benefit to the organization or to Matt Walbeck to discuss those reasons publicly or to disclose those reasons. We definitely appreciate everything Matt's done here in his time and wanted to support his desire to pursue an upper-level spot next year, and we didn't have it available for him.

Q: Walbeck did not necessarily think he should be back in Double-A. Is that what a lot of this stems from, that you guys knew he wanted something above this level and you just didn't have that?

A: We didn't have it, and we wanted to articulate that to him as we were going through the contract process to make sure that everybody was on the same page. But at the same time, aspirations are a wonderful thing. We want our guys, if we don't have that opportunity for them, to go on to bigger and better things. I wouldn't say it was big a thing in it, but we articulated to Matt that there wasn't an upper-level opportunity here, and he very clearly decided that he wanted to explore other places.

Q: Were there any developmental issues or with the way he communicated with the players, the staff and the organization?

A: Again, we have our reasons for why the decision we made was the decision we made, and there's no benefit to Matt Walbeck or to the organization to publicly disclose those.

Q: One issue that seems odd is the timing. A week and a half ago the Curve win a championship, and then the manager is not brought back. From that component, you're taking a PR hit, so why was now the time to do this?

A: The decision isn't based upon a short-term performance spike, positive or negative. His contract was set to expire Oct. 31, and yes, if we were PR focused, we could have waited until Oct. 31 to have this dialogue with him. We decided that it was probably in his best interests to have the dialogue before then and moved forward.

Q: Would you say you guys did that out of respect for him to help him have more time to find a new job?

A: Absolutely.

Q: What would you say to the fans in this area who just saw a championship and rallied behind this guy, and now he's let go? What would you tell the people here who would be frustrated by that?

A: I think that the reality is we understand their frustration on the surface, that the move to not have an upper-level position for the guy may not make sense. And we certainly understand and respect that. Our hope and belief is that they rallied behind the team, rallied behind the players and the group as a whole and not just a single individual. That group collectively moved from Lynchburg, they moved from the high-A level together where they won a championship, they move to Double-A and won a championship and that's a group that we're excited about as they continue to develop and grow. And we need to make sure that we as an organization do everything in our power to help that group and as individuals reach their potential.

Q: Was this a group decision, or was something like this entirely left up to Kyle Stark, the farm director?

A: All decisions are group decisions, and then ultimately the department has the final say.

 
 

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