Clint Hurdle is the new Colorado batting coach, which, of
course, is a part-time job. "He can work with us 81 games a
year," rightfielder Larry Walker says. "When we're at home, he
might as well take a vacation in Hawaii." In 1996 the Rockies
batted .343 and scored an average of 8.12 runs a game at home
but hit .228 and scored only 3.74 runs away from Coors Field.
It's no wonder that Colorado was 55-26 in Denver and nearly the
reverse (28-53) out of town. The road slump, Hurdle says, has
graduated to "paranoia."
Hurdle viewed all this from a respectable distance last year as
the Rockies' minor league hitting instructor, but now he's the
major league club's fifth batting coach in the past five years.
There are perfectly good explanations for the parade of former
big leaguers in this position--Amos Otis didn't work hard
enough, Dwight Evans did not have good rapport with some
players, Art Howe left to manage the A's, and Ken Griffey Sr.
reportedly wanted a two-year extension--but all the changes have
led to suggestions that manager Don Baylor, himself a onetime
hitting coach, is meddlesome. "Don is old school," says Hurdle.
"He says, 'They're yours. Go do it.' He doesn't want to hear
about the labor pains. Just show him the baby."
Hurdle, 40, is a garrulous man, a former Royals phenom who
didn't pan out in 10 big league seasons. "I started paying a lot
of attention to hitting late in my career," says Hurdle, who
retired in 1987, managed in the Mets' minor league system for
six years and joined the Colorado organization in '94 as a
roving minor league hitting instructor. "Probably because I
didn't play as much, I had to watch the other guys. I started to
home in on what makes a good hitter."
Hurdle decided that the common thread among disparate hitting
styles was balance and angle of stroke, hardly revolutionary
concepts, though his loquaciousness and energy make it all sound
fresh. "This team hit 200 home runs and stole 200 bases last
year, so how much do you want to change?" Hurdle asks. "Look at
the back of my baseball card--[first baseman Andres] Galarraga
put up numbers last year [47 home runs, 150 RBIs] that almost
matched my career totals [32 homers, 193 RBIs]. I don't have an
instructional book on hitting. Never will. No video, either. I
was a career .259 hitter. I mean, who would buy it?"
But the Rockies vow to buy into a plan Hurdle formulated to
avoid a repeat of those disastrous road trips, an approach
slightly more scientific than bringing Coors Field sod with them
to San Francisco, which they did on one trip last season. The
Rockies will take early hitting the first day of a road series
to help acclimate themselves, and they will play "small ball,"
moving runners rather than waiting for the bombs. And those
legendary 4 p.m. batting-practice spectacles--when leftfielder
Dante Bichette and friends start trying to launch missiles--are
out. "Everyone loved us," Hurdle says. "The Rockies came to
town, and not only did you get a home run ball in BP, but you
also got a victory."
Hurdle, calling this his "dream job," hopes to stick around
Denver longer than the last four men in his job. If it doesn't
work out, there's always Maui. Full time.
2B Eric Young
Hit .412 at Coors Field, .219 on road in '96
CF Ellis Burks
Led league with .639 slugging percentage last year
LF Dante Bichette
Has lost 30 pounds to take pressure off reconstructed left knee
RF Larry Walker
Separated right shoulder in the off-season while fishing
1B Andres Galarraga
Hit .413 with runners in scoring position last season
3B Vinny Castilla
Breakout '95 was no fluke: had 40 HRs, 113 RBIs in '96
C Kirt Manwaring
Former Gold Glover upgrades position as free-agent pickup
SS Walt Weiss
Led league with 30 errors, though only five in final 57 games
Ace Kevin Ritz
Had 17 wins but had a Coors-inflated 5.28 ERA
Closer Bruce Ruffin
Held opposition to a .212 batting average in '96
After hitting for a combined .254 average with the Angels and
the Brewers from 1988 through '92, outfielder Dante Bichette
batted .317 over the past four seasons with the Rockies. That
63-point difference between his career American League and
National League batting averages is the highest among major
leaguers who began playing in this century and who have had at
least 1,000 at bats in each league.
STAT FACTS BY ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU