Clint Hurdle took over as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates a year after the Pirate's worst season since 1952. Their 105 losses in 2010, though not surprising, were enough to give John Russell his walking papers and paved the way for Hurdle's hiring. Hurdle's 2011 team didn't look a whole lot different than the historically bad one Pirate's fans saw the year prior, but the results were drastically different. Hurdle's club was 15 games better than Russell's, and even though the team was greatly improved, that 2011 season would be Hurdle's worst as the Pirate's manager until 2019. Clint Hurdle rewrote the standard for what it meant to be the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and now he has been fired for failing to live up to the standard he created.
For more context on how Hurdle raised the bar, below are the four managers prior to Hurdle and the most wins they ever had as Pirate's skippers. The four men below span 14 seasons:
- John Russell - 67 wins
- Jim Tracy - 68 wins
- Lloyd McClendon - 75 wins
- Gene Lamont - 79 wins
Now, consider the fact that, until 2019, Hurdle's worst season as Pirate's manager was his first one and he had 72 wins. Even 2019, at 69 wins, is better than what Pirate fans got in the six years prior to Hurdle coming to Pittsburgh. So, anyone cheering the departure of Clint Hurdle must acknowledge that you feeling this way is only possible because your expectations for the Pirates were raised...by Clint Hurdle.
The climax of Hurdle's tenure in Pittsburgh was the 2013 season where his club ended a 20-season streak of losing and gave the Pirates their first playoff appearance in as many years. I remember watching the NL wild card game that year and, as a raucous crowd visibly shook Red's pitcher Johnny Cueto immediately before a Russell Martin home run, I thought "my goodness, this is a baseball town again." And it was. I suppose it always was - it just needed a reason to come alive, and it was Clint Hurdle's, tightly-knit clubhouse that resuscitated it.
There was something different about those teams. You could see the comradery as players would have dance parties in the dugout in between innings. You didn't hear about locker room fights or altercations between players and coaches. There was a bond with that team. A bond that Clint Hurdle fostered. A bond he was unable to replicate as those players rapidly left Pittsburgh for new opportunities.
I understand the move that was made. I don't like it. I wish for all Clint Hurdle has done for the Pirates that he would get to leave the team on his own terms and get the sendoff he deserved. But, I do get it. What I don't get is why it was Hurdle who had to be the fall guy. This roster was perhaps the worst of Hurdle's career, and that is not his fault. The team lacked an ace on the pitching staff after Neil Huntington traded away the only one they've had in many years. With all that said, the team is on a downward trajectory and in need of a change. So, I get why this change was made - it just shouldn't have been the only one.
I will be forever grateful to Clint Hurdle for giving baseball back to the city of Pittsburgh. Prior to Hurdle's arrival in Pittsburgh, many Pirate fans never experienced, or couldn't remember, meaningful baseball. Now that we do, we demand more. Unfortunately for Clint Hurdle, he was unable to supply that demand he created, but I for one will not forget all he's given us. I wish Clint Hurdle all the best on wherever life takes him next.
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