Before Clint Hurdle’s even been announced as manager of the Pirate, it’s easy to break the reaction to his hiring down into two categories:
- Clint Hurdle was a great hire! Getting him is a huge coup because the Mets might have wanted him and that means the Pirates are going to be good again!
- Clint Hurdle got fired for Jim Tracy and even if that didn’t matter, the Pirates suck and will always suck and it doesn’t matter who the manager is anyways until the players stop sucking.
If we assume that those represent two extremities in opinion (OK, it’s true, they do), then what exactly does hiring Clint Hurdle mean for the Pirates?
Here’s what I like about hiring Hurdle: he’s experienced in a way that a Pirates’ manager hasn’t been in a long time. Since Jim Leyland skipped town, the Pirates have hired five managers. Lloyd McClendon was completely inexperienced as a manager, John Russell managed some in the minors with no big league experience, and both Gene Lamont and Jim Tracy had some experience managing teams that weren’t anything like the Pirate teams they inherited. Lamont did 3+ years with talented but aging White Sox teams during the strike, Tracy did five years with the huge-budget Dodgers. Both got hired more because of who they knew (Lamont spent years on Leyland’s coaching staff before managing the White Sox and was back on Leyland’s staff in 1996, Tracy and Dave Littlefield had ties back to their days with the Expos) than what they’d done.
Hurdle has, as far as I can tell, no ties to the current management group. He managed in Colorado for parts of eight seasons (7+ seasons worth of games) and most of the time he was there, he was managing a team that its share of young players and low expectations. After a year away from managing, the only two teams still looking for a manager when he became available in early November were both very interested in hiring him. From what I can tell, he actually chose the Pirates over the Mets and while I don’t doubt that John Perrotto is right in saying that his daughter played a big role in that, I don’t know that Hurdle would’ve taken the Pirates’ job if he felt that managing the Pirates was a Sisyphean task. His results in Colorado weren’t great and he was fired for Jim Tracy, but if Pirate fans should know anything it’s that managers can have the deck stacked against them and that they wear out their welcomes after a while, whether it’s deserved or not.
The opposite side of things is that there’s still only so much a manager can do. Unlike some other sports where coaches influence offensive and defensive systems and playing styles and other things that can contribute strongly to an on-field result, a baseball manager’s main job is to get his best players on the field. If the players he has to put on the field aren’t very good, then the team won’t be very good no matter how good the manager is at firing people up in the clubhouse ahead of time. That means that hiring Hurdle might be good for the team, but it’s not nearly as important as drafting and/or signing Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia and continuing to do similar things in future years. If the Pirates end up with a winning team during Hurdle’s tenure, he might help things along but he won’t be the reason for it (chemistry nerd time: he might be a catalyst!).
Overall, I guess what I like most about the hiring is what it represents in terms organizational philosophy. They said they were going to go “outside their comfort zone,” and they did. Maybe they wanted Wedge and he bailed on them and maybe that didn’t happen, but they waited for Hurdle instead of just giving the job to the internal candidate and they managed to bring him in, even though another (bigger market) team wanted him. Those are all things that make me feel pretty good about this hire, even if Hurdle is far from the final building block.