Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pirates management is above you and not afraid to remind you of it

The annual management Q&A took place at PirateFest today. A few notes:
I went in with a list of ten questions. My thinking was that I would pick one based on the nature and tone of the conversation set by those who asked questions ahead of me. 

A gentleman from Kentucky who was two spots ahead of me in line asked a series of questions about player development as it relates to the Pirates' fundamental failures at the big-league level. Neal Huntington answered this question by stating that a lot of the Pirates' players in both the majors and minors had come from other teams' development systems, and that the Pirates weren't responsible for their development. I was tweeting at the time and didn't get the quote verbatim. If anyone has it, please post it in the comments.

Once more: Neal Huntington blamed other teams for how crappy the Pirates players are. 

Apropos of that, when it was my turn, I went with a question about said development: Neither Kyle Stark nor Larry Broadway have any background in developing baseball players at any level. What makes either of them qualified for the jobs they hold?

Huntington simply started out by defending Stark and Broadway, then weaved his way into rambling nonsense for a minute or so. He defended Stark's baseball background, citing his few years with Cleveland's organization. This happens to be be Stark's only baseball experience, unless you count playing college volleyball, which I don't. 

Huntington went onto extol the professional virtues of Larry Broadway, a career minor-leaguer who serves as the director of minor league operations. In doing so, Huntington seemed to make a pseudo-logical jump from my questioning Stark's qualifications to the notion that I did so because Stark had never played organized baseball. I'd said no such thing -- in fact, I don't even recall thinking it. But that didn't stop Neal from telling me that one didn't need to have a baseball background in order to be successful in baseball. He then defended Broadway's qualifications by saying that he'd played professionally. Yes.

Huntington then said that Broadway might be more qualified for a baseball job than he himself is, simply by virtue of having played. I'd say this is where he lost me, but I'd be lying. It was long before that. He also mentioned that Broadway is a very smart guy who attended Duke University.

"Did he study player development?" I asked.

Huntington scoffed and made an uncertain reference to Bill Belichick, then asked me which team I thought had the best minor league system. I said Tampa Bay. I don't actually have opinion on the matter, and I don't rank minor league systems. But I could have said I thought the Cubs did, and he would have used the opportunity the same way: to name the guy who runs player development for the organization I selected, then by saying that even that guy had to start somewhere.

I followed up by asking if player development didn't warrant a greater allocation of resources, and would it not behoove the Pirates to spend some money on pursuing established professionals? He danced around that one, too.

That's about when the crowd got sick of the conversation. A few people started shouting "next question!" But Greg Brown, who was nominally serving as moderator, let it go on and made no effort to advance the program. By the same token, Huntington's tone in responding to me was so defensive and he had so much he seemed to want to say, that he didn't appear to want to cut me off, either.

During the final segment of the back-and-forth, I brought up what I called "this military garbage." Huntington said that it was about mental toughness, and was "scientifically proven" to work. He rambled some more insanity about it, and I took one step away from the microphone to indicate to Greg Brown that I was going to hear out Huntington's answer, then go sit down. Huntington talked about how all sorts of organizations use military training, completely glossing over the militaristic culture which Bob Nutting had to acknowledge existed in the first place so that he could order it ceased. 

When Huntington finished, I took one step back toward the mic, said "Hoka Hey" to the gentlemen on stage, and walked right back to my seat.

A few minutes later, a fan who described himself as statistically inclined referenced WAR and asked Huntington where he thought the Pirates were going to get the 20 or so other wins the need to be competitive. Huntington referenced Fangraphs, but said that the organization has its own internal metrics for player evaluation, and then said, "We're not trying to get to 98 wins." Again, I was tweeting and didn't get the entire quote verbatim, but that had my jaw on the floor. The goal, he said, was somewhere in the mid-80s.

We all look at the same peripherals. The Pirates were overperforming last year when they were 16 games over .500, and Huntington knew that. But I'd bet anything that if someone had asked of last year's collapse, "Did you guys see this coming?" They would have either flatly denied it or turned it over to Hurdle, who would have made told an anecdote about a truck stuck in the mud or some such nonsense.

Later on, seemingly eager to speak, Frank Coonelly brought the military training aspect back up, gestured toward me and referred to me by name as having called it "military garbage." He then lied to everyone in the room when he said that the training took place over a three-day period and ONLY over a three-day period -- which can only technically true if the retired Navy SEALS were only there for three days. The very direct implication, though, was that this was not year-round practice. All of the reporting on the subject contradicts that notion.

Coonelly then went for the aggressive, shameless pander, saying that the United States military is a wonderful organization and that we're all proud of them, and that nobody should feel shame for associating with the military. In effect, the Pirates are training players for a 162-game war -- a comparison Coonelly actually made. I can't imagine a more back-handed compliment to actual soldiers.

He topped it off by directly insinuating that I was an unpatriotic asshole for questioning the Pirates training methods, and said he would never apologize for associating with an organization as great as our country's armed forces. That drew a frightening amount of applause.

Moments later, Hurdle suggested that evidence the Pirates were getting better was obvious from the changes in the nature of fans' complaints. More pandering in the form of congratulating the fans for their loyalty was stomach turning.

The rest of the session saw no pointed questions about the Pirates player development, draft strategy, free agent acquisitions, trades, or anything else. The most commonly asked question was along the lines of "what are you going to do to get better?" and it was answered, time and again, "we're going to play better." Several people expressed great satisfaction with the signing of Russell Martin, and an equal number of people began their time at the mic by thanking the management team for being so great. 

In summary, Huntington was defensive, Coonelly was aggressive and Hurdle was running for mayor.

It was disgusting and sycophantic, and I'm shocked that no other angry fans turned out to voice their displeasure. Free tickets to PirateFest, just like free tickets to Pirates games, are not difficult to come by. I know there are people out there as angry about this as I am. What's it going to take for you sons of bitches to get mad enough to look these guys in the eye and tell them you don't approve of their bullshit? 


Scott Skink said...

To be fair there was at least one other question where a woman quoted Nutting's comment from mid-September when he said, "We have to make sure this never happens again," and asked what changes other than players have been made to ensure that. Coonelly gave a roundabout answer implying that it was all about making the players better and she followed up with, "So you're saying that the only changes are on the field?" at which point Coonelly angrily snapped and Hurdle had to bail him out.

The Hoka Hey was a nice touch.

Matt said...

Hurdle reminds me of Bill Clinton. It's almost creepy. If Coonelly and Huntington had to face fans in those kinds of forums more often or without Hurdle there, they'd have flipped shit on people and lost their jobs years ago. And yes, credit to that lady. She got her jab in. Subtle, but effective.