Friday Focus: If You Liked the Pirates' Off-Season House-Cleaning, Thank Clint Hurdle
Gary Morgan Jr.
We all know the story; the Pirates have cleaned house. They replaced the vast majority of baseball operation's management. There were stutter starts, mishaps and bouts of confusion on the way to where we sit, but what started the whole ball rolling? The easy answer is Neal Huntington relieving Clint Hurdle of his duties prior to the last game of the season, but I think it goes deeper than that.
Clint Hurdle is an honest man. I think that served him well in his role as the face of change here in Pittsburgh. He told us from the start his goal was to reconnect this baseball team with its city. He was direct as he dug into his goal. He spoke plainly and firmly, with no illusion as to the uphill climb he faced. When things started turning the corner in 2010, he made it clear it still wasn’t good enough.
So, when he told The Athletic’s Stephen Nesbitt that he had been informed he was going to return to coach the Pirates in the 2020 season, I had no doubt he had in fact been told that exactly.
This is where I head off into some conjecture. Because I believe Clint to be an honest man, I completely believe Neal Huntington informed him he’d be back. The fans and media, amid an emotionally charged and horrific second half of the season, and hearing Clint would be back set off a firestorm. Not so much that Clint would return, but that Neal was in a position to tell him he would be. Nobody was going to allow this club to quietly slip off into the off-season and try again next year.
That’s exactly what I believe the plan was. I believe Neal Huntington told Clint he’d be back, Ray Searage would be the sacrificial lamb and 2020 would be business as usual. But Clint opened his mouth, the very openness and honesty that has served him so well in the early part of his tenure, was ultimately his undoing. He just happened to take his GM and team president, Frank Coonelly, with him.
Really, sit back and think of how this all went down. There was an obvious observation that Bob Nutting made his decisions late in the game, but none of it started until the fans and media really started asking questions. Had Clint not said anything, there is a chance this all would have still taken place, but it seemed as if the team was poised to do exactly what they always have, slip off into the off-season out of the day-to-day public scrutiny and come back the next season with a naturally cooled seat. Clint started the clock early.
That’s just my interpretation of what happened. The timeline is accurate, but you tell me what’s more likely, my version of events or one of these two alternate scenarios. First, Bob after reflection of about 8 solid hours decided to fire Clint Hurdle and just couldn’t overcome his accountability train of thought to move on from Frank and Neal in the coming weeks. Second our collective outrage on social media and the media in general caused him to pull a heel turn never seen in his history.
I said it at the time and I still hold firm, the wholesale change Bob Nutting executed this off-season was necessary and the right thing to do, regardless how it happened or why he did it. Clint Hurdle shined a light on a corner of the room they probably would have preferred to remain in the shadows. Now its up to all his new hires to show this was more than a re-branding, or worse. On paper these are some very impressive men, but one thing none of them has ever accomplished, being successful working for Bob Nutting.
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