Prior to the 2011 season, there were two finalists for the vacant position as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates - Clint Hurdle and Jeff Banister. Obviously, Hurdle went on to win the job. Hesitation around hiring an internal candidate to lead an organization that lost consistently was a factor in passing on Banister.
Two years later, Hurdle would validate that decision by earning NL manager of the year while leading the Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 20 years. Jeff Banister would also go on to earn a manager of the year award (AL) for helping turn around the struggling Texas Rangers in 2016.
Like Hurdle, Banister was dismissed from his role as manager shortly after the success faded. Now, the Pirates are looking for a manager and, once again, Banister's name is the favorite to get the role. However, Banister is again an internal candidate after spending this last season as a special assistant within the Pirates organization. The same reservations the team had about hiring him 9 years ago could be applied today.
Let's face it. Fans do not want to see a losing franchise hire from within. A new perspective is desired by the fanbase to bring the needed change and Banister would not fill that demand. However, if you look at the current state of the Pirates, it looks an awful lot like what Banister took over in Texas and later turned into a contender.
The year before Banister was hired, the Rangers were 67-95. They had a subpar pitching staff and an unreliable bullpen. The next year, under Banister, they were 88-74 - a 21-game improvement. Of course there were changes to the Ranger's roster that coincided with Banister's arrival, but 21 games is excellent work from a manager. His tenure in Arlington ended with a 325-313 record. The wheels fell off in 2018 for Banister's Rangers. The rotation was once again a problem. Only one starter, Mike Minor, had an ERA under five (4.43).
I don't believe the 2020 Pirates will be capable of a 21-game improvement, but Banister could be one of the better candidates to get the most out of them. He spent much of this season at the different minor league locations and should know well many of the prospects who will make up the Pirate's roster over the next few years.
At 55, he isn't going to be one of the youngest candidates. However, like Hurdle, he brings a natural energy and enthusiasm to his work - something this club definitely needs.
I can already hear it now. Moments after Banister is hired (and I think he will be), the laments from the Pittsburgh faithful will be loud and clear. I admit that hiring Banister feels like the Huntingtonest move the Pirates can make, but it may be, by a stroke of luck, the right one...or at least not the most wrong one.
Jeff Banister may not be the most fun guy for a city who is looking for someone to rally behind, but he could be a solid option. Not my favorite one, but they could do worse and, considering some of the mishaps from this front office, "could do worse" feels like a glowing endorsement.