Kovacevic: Pirates aim to be … Hells Angels?
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012, 11:20 p.m.
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012
Even as these Pirates keep muddling through Epic Collapse II, their minor league prospects spent the past weekend in Florida inexplicably, indefensibly performing military drills under the direction of former Navy SEALS. No bats, no balls, no gloves.
Yeah, this again.
Here's the deal: Since I brought this topic to light in a column last Friday, many, many more people have come forward to express their disdain for Neal Huntington and his assistant, Kyle Stark, for adding three days of soldier-level training to their Instructional League regimen. And in every case, those people have contacted me, not the other way around.
A few readers asked if I would have written last week's column in June or July, when the Pirates were flying high. The answer is almost certainly no. But that's only because a) the event just happened and b) the mood wasn't the same for these people to talk.
So let's start with the SEALS activity list I was texted. And bear in mind, these are baseball players:
• Wake up at 5 a.m.
• Organize room/locker
• Pushups and sit-ups
• Serpentine on the grass
• Crab walk
• Running along the beach with a telephone-type pole, carried by five or six players
• Pushing a truck tire through the outfield for 90 feet, then flipping it
• Being sprayed by a hose
• Diving into a sand pile
All with a drill sergeant barking orders throughout.
When the Penguins had a team-building session at West Point in 2007, their most grueling exercise, according to most players, was an extended round of jumping jacks.
I'll repeat: These aren't soldiers. They're baseball players. Their training varies from position to position. They're also teenagers for the most part. Most have never heard of these types of exercises, much less prepared mentally or physically to endure them. Ask anyone in the military, and they'll attest there's no comparison between what they do and even the highest level of athletics.
Most of the people who called have used fierce language to denounce this, none more so than those within the Pirates who obviously can't speak on the record for fear of their jobs.
That's OK. I'll say it for them: It's a joke.
And it's doubly so in the context of an organization that's seen prospect after prospect arrive in Pittsburgh lacking in the most basic fundamentals.
But don't take my word. Have a laugh yourself at how goofy the Pirates' development approach has become and why they are, as one American League scout put it, “the laughingstock of the industry.”
On June 28 at 5:22 p.m., Stark sent an email to his minor league managers and coaches, copies of which were forwarded to me from within the organization. Huntington, who promoted Stark to assistant GM last winter, was copied on the email. I confirmed Thursday that neither Bob Nutting nor Frank Coonelly was.
“So what do we need to get done in the second half?” Stark opens the email.
He then stresses developing “boys into men” for the purpose of reaching the majors, listing three points: “Dream and be creative like a Hippie. Have the discipline and perseverance of a Boy Scout. Be crazy and take risks like the Hells Angels.”
Yeah, those Hells Angels.
The famous motorcycle club that is listed as an organized crime syndicate by the U.S. Department of Justice. The one that poses “a criminal threat” in 27 nations because of drug trafficking, theft, money laundering, extortion, assault and homicide.
Here's guessing “Play ball!” isn't their motto.
More Stark: “The biggest impact we can have is developing more Hells Angels. We are really good at working before games. We excel at developing Boy Scouts. However, men play in the Big Leagues and that requires the reckless abandon of a Hells Angel. They're not consumed or swayed by what others think. They sell out to their purpose and live life fully and in-the-moment (‘this pitch').”
The nonsense goes on for several paragraphs, including this cultish creepiness: “At the end of the day, the Hells Angels are fiercely loyal to each other. ... They love each other. Are our players bound by brotherhood? Are we bound by brotherhood?”
And this: “We must get out of our comfort zones and flex our own Hells Angel muscle. We must be extreme in our commitment to these ideas. This is ultimately about developing a mentality and a culture where this becomes our identity. A culture of risk and less control is unsettling for us control freaks!”
Stark, 34, has zero military background. Truth be told, he didn't come to the Pirates with much of a baseball background, either. He played volleyball in school, spent two years as pitching coach at St. Bonaventure and worked in the Indians' system for four years.
And yet Stark has been running a baseball system in a military way — including cleaning house of established baseball men to hire like-minded coaches — for five years here.
His email ends with this: “HOKA HEY — It's a good day to die!!!”
This was the battle cry of the Native American hero Crazy Horse.
Or power hungry.
Or just plain incompetent.
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I see the following problems: Military drills are not the problem unless there there is no baseball related activities performed in the Instructional League. How come Stark gets promoted to assistant general manager in 4 years counting his Indians and Pirates tenure? There are people in this business with a better track record than this guy and are still doing lower level scouting. How come an assistant to the GM writes an email like this? What is the level of IQ? What did Neal see in this guy during the interview to hire him? Neal showed poor judgment in hiring him.
Submitted by: Ed on Friday, September 21, 2012
Kyle Stark's management style certainly seems to be questionable and is yet another incrimination of the incompetence of the Pirate front-office. Still, that Dejan should appoint himself the messenger here is a head-scratcher. When most clear-thinking fans were questioning the competence of Pirate management this summer (as we had been for years), Dejan told us to "savor it," and then he belitted fans who didn't feel like savoring Hurdle's nightly miscalculations. Then, Dejan got his panties in a bunch and blocked Twitter responses when fans had the audacity to point out his weekly schizophrenic flip-flops regarding Pirates management. Take your ball and go home, Dejan. And stop soiling the sports pages I subscribe to with your brain droppings. You stink.
Submitted by: Craig on Friday, September 21, 2012
This is more proof that the Pirates are the most pathetic organization in professional sports.
Submitted by: Ted on Friday, September 21, 2012
Shameful... absolutely shameful... with the prevalence of so many good coaches and good leaders in this world... I fail to understand why the Pirates organization has failed to incorporate solid leadership and solid fundamentals... Isn't 20 years of failure enough? What does it take to understand that you can't fake your way thru this? It takes serious people doing serious work. There's no room for hippies and delusional and random dreams... Passionate people, with passionate goals and meaningful dreams. As a fanbase, we Pirates fans dream the dream that one day, we will see our beloved Pirates become something we can be proud of... lasting success... and while God-given talent is a key ingredient... 99.9% of the time, lasting success begins with solid fundamentals... and that's true from all perspectives... on-field play, off field practice and preparation, leadership, coaching, etc. As a business man, Bob Nutting should know this!
Submitted by: Joe on Friday, September 21, 2012
Here's to all the Pirates that didn't follow A.J. out of the dugout; MEOW!! A few things: If the Pirates hadn't fallen on their collective faces and had remained 13-16 games over .500 this column would have been about the innovative, thinking outside the box, Pittsburgh Pirates brass. I totally agree that Pirate minor leaguers lack fundamentals and need properly trained. Pirates, get people to train them. The players are under contract. These couple days tasking are not the only days on the calender. This is a team building exercise to build camaraderie and esprit de corps, nothing more. Stop the whining. Having read this piece with the knowledge that you are receiving Kyle Starks private emails from inside the Pirate organization on this matter doesn't impress me. Here's a big MEOW to that employee that sent them to you Dejan. It looks to me, after the A.J. charge, the Cincinnati incident,(MEOW) and this employee throwing people under the bus, that MEOW must be a prevalent sound ALL around the Pirate's universe. Write about that Dejan.
Submitted by: willie on Friday, September 21, 2012
Although Hell's Angels isn't an organization that I would invoke, Stark's allusion to it is not to have his players engage in mayhem (although it may work out that way). I understand his thinking that players need to have a sense of freedom, but you have created a coaching staff whereby minor league pitchers have such strict pitching limits that one pitch over an arbitrary number results in a letter in your file. The whole concept of pitching limits is somewhat ludicrous anyway. Why is 50 or 100 a magic number? Did God make even numbers the threshold for injury? Although putting up the Hell's Angles as a model is clearly a mistake in judgement, that pales in comparison to the vast number of personnel related mistakes made. This includes draft selection, player trades, and human relations. I think some of Stark's ideas and thoughts are not bad in theory, but poor in execution. This speaks to another misstep on the part of Huntington and on a larger scale Nutting. There has been a lot of things that have gone well for the Pirates this season, but as the pressure has increased, the team has crumbled. This speaks to the players. Having A.J. Burnett be the only one ready to defend his teammates speaks volumes about the amount of fight in the team as a whole. Being a successful team is more than merely assembling a bunch of men with good stats. Temperament, attitude, desire, pride, baseball I.Q. and chemistry are just a few of the intangibles that makes a winner. The Pirates need almost all of these things because there is a dearth of talent. The Bucs have been celebrated for their spending in the amateur draft, but in many ways that illustrates a lack of baseball acumen. By buying "can't miss" prospects, it avoids public scrutiny and draws plaudits. Conversely, if you pay for the big league team and scout deftly, you take risks (like Hell's Angels) and win yearly as opposed to generationally. The letter likely doesn't help Starks, but just as D.K. said, if the team was winning and the front office not dysfunctional, this wouldn't be an issue. Years back the Pirates hired Huntington with arguably insufficient experience. The Phillies were also a team that had uneven success. The hired Pat Gillick, one of the best minds in baseball. Sometimes you get what you pay for. The Orioles are doing whatever they can to win this year because next year is not promised. We gabve up prospects for Gabby Sanchez. I have been around baseball for a long time. Travis Snider needs major reconstruction before he equates to a corner outfielder. It may happen, but not without a lot of work. The good news is that Cole and Tallion are very good, and as we have seen earlier this season, good pitching can eliminate a lot of shortcomings..........just not all of them.
Submitted by: alan on Friday, September 21, 2012
Really?? Any managers who lack confidence (such as Huntington) hire less competent subordinates so that there isn't anyone directly beneath them in the organizational hierarchy to replace them (with any degree of confidence) in case a change is needed to be made on a spur-of-the-moment.
Submitted by: Ben on Friday, September 21, 2012
Hell's Angels? Why couldn't the organization set its sights on the Anaheim Angels (of Los Angeles), since, you know, they're a baseball team? I'm all for team-building activities. I'm a high school baseball coach, and we try to build camaraderie during our offseason workouts and preseason training camp, but nothing you described will ever help these kids on the diamond. The last word of your column sums up Pittsburgh's front office: incompetent. The fact that the Pirates' youngsters can't do the simplest of things, like run the bases or bunt, is all the proof one should need that a system-wide cleansing needs to be done. It's so bad it almost makes me pine for the days of Dave Littlefield. ... Almost. Here's to a new front office in 2013!
Submitted by: yoyo on Friday, September 21, 2012
Someone should pen a letter to D-Lee and see what he thinks about this club now.