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Dirty laundry: Details emerge in Walbeck ouster

Commentary

October 1, 2010
By Cory Giger, cgiger@altoonamirror.com

(NOTE: To be clear, the lie accusation in this column is in no way indicative of the reporting done by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, whom I hold in the highest regard as a major league beat writer.

It is an accusation aimed at whoever the source(s) are who told him that Walbeck did not do much early work. That aspect is blatantly false.

Kovacevic did his job reporting what a source told him, but that source's information is incorrect.

Article Photos

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Matt Walbeck answers questions at Blair County Ballpark prior to the 2010 season.

I have witnessed firsthand countless times the Curve players doing tons of early work four and five hours before a game during the past two seasons. And as the column points out, many, many players complained about it and complained that Walbeck was, in fact, working them too hard.

Whatever the issues were with Walbeck, to blame it on a lack of early work smacks of either someone who doesn't know what he/she is talking about, or it's pure spin so that it gives the Pirates some level of justification. -- Cory Giger)

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Fact Box

More online

Read Cory Giger's Q&A with Pirates GM Neal Huntington at altoonamirror.com.

We may never know the entire truth, but this is as much of it as there is about the Matt Walbeck situation, sorting through source material, he said/he said stuff, misinformation and one flat-out lie that has been reported.

The single indisputable fact is this: Walbeck, who led the Curve to the Eastern League championship, wanted a position higher than Double-A in the Pirates' system. He felt he had earned that after winning three championships and being named manager of the year four times in six seasons.

Everything else is murky, at best.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the organization did not have an upper-level position for Walbeck, so the manager was informed Wednesday night that his contract would not be renewed.

"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," Huntington said. "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."

The big question is: Why didn't the organization want to promote a guy who clearly looked like he deserved it?

The Mirror contacted multiple sources Thursday and learned that the Pirates were not happy with some aspects of Walbeck's performance. One of their biggest complaints was about his communication skills with players and staff members in the organization.

In other words, they don't like how Walbeck deals with people. And if there is a nutshell answer for why he was let go, that is it, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

One Curve player from the 2010 season ripped Walbeck and his people skills, and since there's always two sides to every story, another player said he did a great job as manager. We will get to those comments in a bit.

First, there's the issue of the flat-out lie. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited anonymous sources saying one of the most notable reasons for Walbeck's ouster was that there "was a lack of extra work before games."

That is downright preposterous, and anyone claiming that is merely looking for an excuse instead of being honest.

If there's one thing that cannot be disputed it's that, for two years, Walbeck always had his players out very early before games taking extra batting or fielding practice. Probably too much so, in fact, as there were countless times some players were on the field at 2 p.m. practicing for a 7 o'clock game.

Many, many Curve players complained about all the extra work during Walbeck's two seasons and criticized him for it in off-the-record discussions. Even the player who ripped Walbeck acknowledged the team always did a lot of extra work, and the player who went to bat for him also said the club did an inordinate amount of it.

"Wally was an old-school manager," the latter player said on the condition of anonymity. "He had guys go out there for early work, did things that kind of got to them toward the end of the season and wore them down a little bit.

"I think we did a little bit more in Altoona because of the guys' ages being so young."

While neither Huntington nor Walbeck would criticize the other publicly, one Curve player was very critical of Walbeck.

"From a player's standpoint, he doesn't really communicate well with people," the player said on the condition of anonymity. "He's not like a really good guy, good guy, a guy that you want to go out there and grind for. He's a nice guy, and no one's going to dislike him. But he's not somebody they're going to go out there and run through a wall for."

But the Curve did win this season, going 82-60 and claiming a title.

"Basically anybody could have managed the team that we had there," the player added. "If you could put up a lineup card, you would have been successful with the group of players you had there.

"I look at our schedule, and we lost 60 games. I look around and say, 'How the hell did we lose 60 games this year?' With the starting pitching and offense we had, there's no way we should have lost 60 games."

The player said he "didn't have the best relationship" with Walbeck but would not disclose exactly why.

"From a pure baseball perspective, they'll be able to find someone that's clearly more qualified," he said. "I wasn't really shocked to find out because you kind of had a feeling throughout the year that their relationship [between Walbeck and the Pirates] was kind of on edge."

As with any job, some people like the boss, and some don't.

"I honestly never had any problems with Wally," the player who stuck up for Walbeck said. "We always had a great player/manager relationship. Just like any other clubhouse you come across, you'll find some situations where some players and managers disagree on some things."

The positive player knew there were many others in the clubhouse who did not feel the same as he did.

"It was hit or miss," the player said. "I'd say some guys obviously didn't like him as much, and you'll have disagreements between players and managers. Guys will not like him or like him. I was one of the guys that did like him. I thought he did a pretty good job. ... His record as a manager speaks for itself.

"Some of the things that went on, I heard about off to the side, so I really stayed away from it. But I thought he did a great job, and I really enjoyed having him around."

Walbeck refuted the notion that he has any problems with communication.

"Not at all," he said. "If anything, I think one of my strengths is communicating. I'm pretty open, and I certainly always return phone calls and say what's on my mind.

"Sometimes I say some things that are harsh," he added, "but there's usually a reason behind it."

From firsthand experience, Walbeck was always very professional, open and honest in dealing with him as a media member for two years.

"If you look at the numbers, as far as how our players went about their business playing and the innings pitched, at-bats, you'll see that there was no compromise in development and/or communication," Walbeck said.

"It was a successful season in my mind in that I stayed within the guidelines of the Pirate organization and their development system, and also brought a winner along with it."

And now he's out of a job.

What a bizarre turn of events. Coming on the heels of the best season in Curve history, it's a shame that all this sordid mess has played out.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or cgsports12@aol.com.

 
 
 

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