Monday, November 15, 2010

Hurdle Hired

OK, it's official: Clint Hurdle, 53, has the Herculean task of trying to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates back to the Promised Land. Hurdle agreed to a three-year deal (no financial terms disclosed) after telling the Mets that he wasn't interested in a second interview.

Kinda odd that he accepted the first Met face-to-face if he wasn't planning to follow through; it seems that he was after the Pirates position from the git-go, and for some reason - and there could be several - dragged out the process. Anyway...

The KC Royals took Merritt Island (Fla.) HS hero Clint Hurdle as the ninth overall selection in the 1975 draft after he batted over .550+ in the prep ranks. Hurdle was a great athlete and a pretty good book guy; he passed up a football scholarship to play quarterback at Miami and an academic scholarship to attend Harvard.

By September 1977 he reached the bigs as a 20-year old. Hurdle homered in his first game, and the following season Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on him, labeling him a can't-miss phenom. Never believe cover stories.

Hurdle did well with the Royals and batted .329 in the strike-shortened 1981 season, but he hurt his back and never regained the touch. He did last ten seasons in the show with the Royals (1977-81), Reds (1982), Mets (1983-85, '87) and Cardinals (1986).

He played outfield, first base, third base, catcher and DH, finishing with 32 career home runs, 193 RBI and a career average of .259 in 515 big league games.

In 1988, a year after retiring as a player, Hurdle was named manager of Class A St. Lucie by the Mets, advancing to AA and then AAA. After six seasons and three post-season appearances as a manager in the New York farm system, he became the Rockies' hitting coach in 1997 and replaced Buddy Bell as manager in 2002.

Hurdle managed the Colorado Rockies for parts of eight seasons between 2002-09. He took them to the World Series in 2007 after the Rox memorable "Rocktober" run, and so earned the managing reins for the NL in the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

That 2007 season, however, was his only one in Colorado with a winning record, and he was fired in early 2009 after an 18-28 start. Hurdle went 534-625, and he became the longest-tenured and winningest manager in Rox history.

Hurdle went to work as an analyst for the MLB Network in 2009 and then took the job as the Rangers' hitting coach for the 2010 season.

Hurdle and his wife Karla have two children, Madison and Christian, and an older daughter, Ashley. Madison has Prader-Willi syndrome, an incurable genetic disorder. Hurdle is a national spokesperson for the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association and holds a fundraiser in Cocoa Beach, Florida for the cause every year.

While the Pirates took a serpentine path to land Hurdle - do you think Eric Wedge would have waited a month like twisting-in-the-wind Jeff Banister did? - he does have the bona fides for the job.

He's experienced and has worked with young teams. He's been in the playoffs and the World Series. He just put in time with the AL champs, the Texas Rangers, a team that led the league with a .276 BA under his tutelage as a hitting coach. Players consider him an excellent motivator and extremely approachable. He speaks Spanish, so he and his his Latino charges don't need a third party. He's also a well prepared guy, never caught without a notebook.

There are two things that could swing either way. One is that he runs a highly structured show; you know how he wants the game played and what he expects. For a young team, that's usually a good thing, although it chafed somewhat on his squad. But as his team matured, he loosened the reins, maybe swinging too much the other way. Hopefully the Rox experience taught him when to push and when to step back.

Secondly, the man has a jones for bunting; the Rox led the league in sac bunts three times and finished in the top three five times during his reign. After watching JR bunt lead-off doubles over, we're still a little leery of the concept. But overall, he's pretty much considered an NL, by-the-book strategist, a welcome change from the off-the-wall moves made by Russell.

Now he's going through his staff wish-list. It's thought that a couple of the old JR guys could be in his mix, but we'll see. A new manager should get to bring in his own hires, although an argument for continuity and familiarity can be made, too. And he's working with the FO to provide input on personnel available through free agency or the trade market.

On paper, Clint Hurdle is a good hire. But the truth is the manager is judged by his team. Hurdle may instill a little more discipline and adherence to fundamentals, but it's up to Neal Huntington to provide the players...and that's what will determine Hurdle's success.

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