Many of us spend our lives trying to live down what we did as
12-year-olds. Then again, most of us didn't enter our adolescent
years as minor national heroes.
Until Oct. 23, when the Pirates named him their new manager,
Lloyd McClendon was best known for something he did nearly 30
years ago. "Every August somebody wants to talk about Legendary
Lloyd," says McClendon, 41, who earned that nickname when he
homered on all five swings he took during the 1971 Little League
World Series. (He was intentionally walked in his five other
plate appearances.) His team from Gary, Ind., the first all-black
squad to qualify for the Series, lost to Taiwan in the
championship game. "It's like I was in a fantasy world," he says,
"and people still want to talk about it 30 years later."
McClendon's relative anonymity in the big leagues--he was the
Pirates' hitting coach for the last four seasons--made him a
fitting choice as manager in what has been a banner off-season
for first chances. Six new skippers (the Arizona Diamondbacks'
Bob Brenly, the Philadelphia Phillies' Larry Bowa, the Los
Angeles Dodgers' Jim Tracy, the Toronto Blue Jays' Buck Martinez,
the Cincinnati Reds' Bob Boone and McClendon) have been hired
since the season ended. Bowa (who managed the San Diego Padres to
an 81-127 record in 1987 and '88) and Boone (who guided the
Kansas City Royals to a 181-206 mark from 1995 to '97) are the
only ones with any experience running major league teams. Brenly
and Martinez have never managed at any professional level. The
grand sum of McClendon's managing experience? Two years in the
Arizona and California fall instructional leagues.
So much for the proverbial coaching carousel. "I think
organizations are looking for young, dynamic men who can lead,"
says McClendon. "They're getting away from conventional types of
managers. Players at the major league level are younger and
younger, and teams need young men who can relate to them."
Even so, Pittsburgh, coming off its eighth consecutive losing
season and getting ready to move into spanking new PNC Park,
could have filled its opening with a more recognizable name to
drum up fan interest. "We probably went around the house to get
in the front door," says Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay, who
along with team owner Kevin McClatchy interviewed 10 candidates
for the job. Among the interviewees were Tracy, former
Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter, Oakland A's bench coach Ken
Macha and St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach Mike Easler. "We felt
Lloyd was the best one," says Bonifay. "We wanted someone who can
communicate and motivate our players, someone who knows what it's
like to be a player."
An aspiring manager since his playing days (he retired in 1995),
McClendon was nonetheless reluctant to throw his hat into the
ring. His predecessor, Gene Lamont, spent the year as a virtual
lame duck and, as expected, was axed as soon as the season ended.
Out of loyalty to Lamont, McClendon never expressed interest in
the job. That changed in mid-September, when, in a meeting in the
visiting manager's office in Houston, Lamont encouraged McClendon
to pursue the position. Within a week he sat down for an
interview with Bonifay.
"The only thing I asked was that the playing field be even," says
McClendon. "Judge me on who I am and what I have to say. I never
doubted that if all those things were even, I'd come out on top."
McClendon was counting on his knowledge of the team and its
players being an advantage, and it was. With him as hitting
coach, the Pirates have raised their team average and runs total
each of the last two years. Several players, including catcher
Jason Kendall, leftfielder Brian Giles and first baseman Kevin
Young, approached Bonifay on their own as the season wound down
and endorsed McClendon. Kendall, a free agent after next season
who's talking to the team about an extension, said McClendon's
hiring would have a "very positive impact on whether I stay in
"If we don't do things the way Mac wants them done, he'll step in
and make sure they get done," says Young. "With him as hitting
coach, we worked on finding my strength and what works for me. As
manager he'll have the flexibility to find ways to get the same
kinds of results out of different types of players. Not every
player is the same, and he realizes that."
McClendon learned that lesson in his own eight-year career,
during which he played for four organizations and three major
league managers. The fourth youngest in a family of 13 children,
he was born and reared in Gary. (He still spends the off-season
in nearby Merrillville, with his wife, Ingrid, and their two
children, Schenell, 17, and Bo, 13.) After his Little League
heroics McClendon had an all-state baseball career at Roosevelt
High and went to Valparaiso on a baseball scholarship. The New
York Mets drafted him following his junior year, and he played
three seasons with the Mets organization before they dealt him to
Cincinnati as part of the Tom Seaver deal. After four years with
the Reds and the Chicago Cubs he landed in Pittsburgh in 1990,
where he was a backup outfielder during the Pirates' run of three
consecutive division titles, from 1990 to '92. He's one of the
few remaining links to the franchise's most recent heyday.
McClendon brings with him a monument from the Pirates' past: Bill
Virdon, a longtime Pittsburgh player, coach and manager (he
started with the team in 1956), was coaxed out of retirement to
be McClendon's bench coach, giving instant credibility to the
rookie manager. "When I came to Pittsburgh, I was a lousy player,
especially in the outfield," says McClendon, who hit .244 with 35
home runs in his career and only twice went deep as many times in
a season as he did in his Little League rampage. "By the time
Bill was finished with me, I felt pretty good about myself in the
outfield, and if I could do it anybody can."
That's the message he has to drill into his young players, some
of whom complained last season about a toxic atmosphere and
losing attitude in the clubhouse. A roster overhaul is
unlikely--the Pirates probably won't substantially increase their
$31 million payroll, the fifth smallest in the majors--so
McClendon plans to shape the team in his image: fiery, confident
and communicative. "That ate at me quite a bit," he says about
the players' complaints, from which, out of respect for Lamont,
he distanced himself during the season. "We've been getting our
butts kicked here for some time. It's going to take that max
effort from everybody to be competitive."
What about the inevitable lack-of-experience questions? "Jim
Leyland told me something," McClendon says. "He said, 'Mac,
always remember how hard this game is and just trust your
instincts.' If I do that, and rely on a guy named Bill Virdon,
I'll be fine."