What's Buzzing:

Pirates' 'Hells Angels,' 'Navy SEALs' minor league training methods become MLB joke

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

The hand-delivered invitations went to the unlucky. The Pittsburgh Pirates recently sent letters to their best minor leaguers warning them that from Sept. 14-17, their Instructional League training in Bradenton, Fla., would consist of "intense Navy SEALs drills."

View gallery

.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington has supported assistant GM Kyle Stark's unusual development program. (AP)

Players had come to rue these activities. A number of team officials feared them. And the rest of baseball just laughed.

It's not just the Pirates' second consecutive collapse that has made them an industry joke. The methods by which they rear their minor leaguers are perhaps even worse, a combination of hubris and recklessness that has led to injuries and widespread resentment, according to four sources who outlined the problems to Yahoo! Sports.

"I knew this stuff was going on," said one source familiar with the Pirates' program, who, like the others, requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. "I didn't like it. Nobody did. They don't know what they're doing."

They are general manager Neal Huntington and assistant GM Kyle Stark, who have implemented a training program unlike any other in the industry. From getting blasted with water after 5 a.m. wakeup calls to hand-to-hand combat in which, according to two sources, top prospect Jameson Taillon once suffered a knee injury, the Pirates' insistence on using militaristic exercise has spooked enough players that a number openly complained to minor league staff members this year about the instructional league plans.

[Also: Lawsuit challenging MLB TV blackouts nears critical stage]

Pirates brass' mindset is perhaps best represented in a June email sent by Stark and first reported Friday morning by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In it, Stark outlines his keys to developing major league players, highlighted by this line: "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."

The email went viral around baseball, traded between front-office executives, scouts and other personnel, each of whom was as bemused as the other. Stark continued by saying "the biggest impact we can have in the second half is developing more Hells Angels" and listed the qualities of the biker gang he most appreciated: "swagger," "reckless abandon" and "bound by brotherhood."

View gallery

.

Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon injured his knee during one militaristic exercise. (AP)

The major league Pirates could use some swagger after turning a 48-37 first-half record into a 74-75 mark that has them barreling toward their 20th consecutive losing season. And recklessness: Well, between Taillon's injury – which, the sources said, turned out not to be serious but nonetheless underscored the danger in having baseball players throw punches and kicks at each other – and the nausea the SEAL activities induce in Pirates prospects, the front office seems to have that covered. And if anyone has been bound, it's the majority of the Pirates organization – against Huntington and Stark.

"[Stark] thinks he is pushing the envelope," another source said, "when he is really over the edge."

[Also: Albert Pujols clings to hope of Cardinals-style miracle in Anaheim]

The activities that took place this year in Bradenton – which included running along the beach carrying telephone poles and flipping truck tires in the outfield, according to the Tribune-Review report – were Stark's brainchild and blessed by Huntington, who hired him with minimal baseball experience. While that is far from a prerequisite – current Houston GM Jeff Luhnow joined the St. Louis Cardinals from the corporate world – Stark's inability to effectively develop talent despite the Pirates' industry-leading spending in the draft is a black mark.

Stark ended the email with a war cry: "HOKA HEY - It's a good day to die!!!" On the Pirates' player-development website, piratespd.com, it describes "Hoka Hey" as "The War Cry Of Clutch Performers" and says "Hoka Hey dog tags available to any interested staff."

The staff is not interested. The players are not interested. They're just hoping the Hoka Hey dog tags serve as mementos of an era that has worn out its welcome.

Yahoo! Sports Minute

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Exonerated after prison term, NFL hopeful takes big step on comeback trail
Video: Can Michigan upset Notre Dame?
Y! Movies: Joaquin Phoenix channels his cult past in 'The Master'

  • Venezuela's Congress orders food minister sacked over shortages

    Venezuela's Congress orders food minister sacked over shortages

    Venezuela's opposition-dominated Congress on Thursday ordered the dismissal of Food Minister Rodolfo Marco over chronic shortages of staple goods that have become the primary complaint about President Nicolas Maduro's government. The opposition … More »

    Reuters - 46 minutes ago
  • Eagles draft Wentz - now what?

    Carson Wentz was selected second in the NFL draft behind the Rams' new franchise quarterback and ironically may sit behind their old franchise signal-caller. While the former North Dakota State QB is the future of the Philadelphia Eagles, Wentz … More »

    AP - Sports - 47 minutes ago
  • Golf-U.S. PGA Tour Latest New Orleans Classic leaderboard

    April 29 (Infostrada Sports) - Latest leaderboard in the first round from the U.S. PGA Tour New Orleans Classic at the par-72 course on Thursday in Avondale, Louisiana holesplayed rounds -8 Brian Stuard (U.S.) 18 64 -7 Retief Goosen (South Africa) … More »

    Reuters - 52 minutes ago
  • The Latest: 3 Ohio St players taken in 1st 10 picks

    The Latest: 3 Ohio St players taken in 1st 10 picks

    Ten picks into the NFL draft and Ohio State is halfway to matching a record with six players taken in the first round. Defensive end Joey Bosa went three to San Diego and Ezekiel Elliot was next off the board to Dallas at No. 4. Cornerback Eli … More »

    AP - Sports - 34 minutes ago
  • Classico wins Los Alamitos feature by 2 1/2 lengths

    LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) -- Classico won the $36,260 feature by 2 1/2 lengths in his first start in over two months Thursday at Los Alamitos. … More »

    AP - Sports - 53 minutes ago