Few people had a better 2013 than Clint Hurdle.
He was voted the National League Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America and named the MLB Manager of the Year by Baseball America after leading the Pirates to their first winning season and postseason appearance since 1992.
Hurdle has reached folk hero status with the fans as the Pirates have gotten incrementally better since he was hired in November 2010. After finishing 57-105 under John Russell in 2010, the Pirates have improved in each of Hurdle’s three seasons to 72-90 then 79-83 and 94-68 last year.
So what does Hurdle do for an encore in 2014? He wants the Pirates to win their sixth World Series title, matching the number of Super Bowl championships won by the Steelers.
Whether the Pirates can win it all won’t be revealed until October but here are Hurdle’s takes on various subjects with his team set to begin spring training Thursday in Bradenton, Fla.:
Q. The Pirates won last year for the first time in a generation. How do you make sure your players stay motivated following such a magical season?
A: Part of what we do is we do ask them questions. Every spring we come in and have that same entrance interview that we do leaving the season called the exit interview.
What did you do well? What challenged you? I imagine if we get the player that says he doesn't have any challenges, we might be able to help him along the lines of what he might anticipate being challenged by the next season based on X, Y or Z of this player's career.
There are two types of players in this game. Those that are humble and those that are about to be. Which one are you? Because there is a chance that you're going to be both. It only takes you one time on that other side that you realize, OK, I need to slow things down. There is always something to learn and improve upon.
I do think we have a clubhouse that's very good at honing their own right now and keeping them sharp for one another. And pushing them collectively together to improve, little individual challenges along the way. So I believe that we're in a place to address those challenges when we do have them.”
Q: PNC Park became the place to be last season. How do you capitalize on that success and make sure your team remains a hot ticket?
A: You have to keep it all in perspective and focus on the things that you did to get (the fans) back. They want a team they can be proud of. They want a team that plays the game smart, plays the game hard. Guys that will dig balls out of the dirt, slide, and break up double plays, all the stuff that a blue collar city can relate to.
Obviously the winning factor is the piece that's been missing. I don't think it's any secret that the Ws add up, and they get on the right side of the column, the place is electric. I do think they have a belief now in place that they haven't been able to hold on to. It's not just hope anymore. They saw tangible evidence of a team that could show up, play, complete and they were proud of. We need to give them more of that.
Q. The other time you made the playoffs as a manager was in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies but were fired two years later. How have you evolved as a manager since then?
A: Most of us at this level have had our ego beaten out of us, so we don't carry that in the forefront of everything we do anymore. For me, that's been critical that I continue to challenge my staff that I don't ever want to be the smartest man in the room. If I'm the smartest man in the room, I need to look for a new room or a new staff.
I have no challenges with that in Pittsburgh whether it be the coaching offices or the front offices upstairs. We have a lot of gifted people, and I think that's been one of the reasons we've been able to develop and get better is we all acknowledge the gifts of one another and skills of one another, and make sure they align properly and let everybody do their work and do their job without micromanaging. That's seemed to work.
Q. You played in the 1970s and 1980s and are more of an “old school” baseball person while the Pirates use advanced statistics and quantitative analysis to help in much of their decision making. How have you been able to adjust?
A: You break down the employees and I'm one of the older men in the building. Tradition can be wonderful, but it can also be a vision killer. I was kind of that guy.
As I explain it to my players just so they understand what I'm trying to become to help them, I played in an era where a hard groundball up the middle was a base hit nine out of 10 times. Now it might be a base hit two out of 10 times (because of defensive shifting). So if the information is there, it's real, it plays out, you're really not doing the best job you can to help your team win if you're not paying attention to it.
We have some very gifted people on that third floor at PNC Park that do some remarkable work and tactically give us a very competitive edge as far as I'm concerned. I need to listen to them.”
Q: It was 36 years ago this month that you were on the cover of Sports Illustrated and labeled as “this year’s phenom” prior to your rookie season with the Kansas City Royals. What do you think when you see that cover?
A: “To get past just the initial shock at how young I looked and how long my hair was, I think it's nice to take a step back. If you can take a step back and look at the picture and realize where you are now. It’s gap analysis. What was I thinking there? What am I thinking now? Where am I now? And look at the space and time that's been covered.
I've been fortunate that I've had people in my life that have really helped me along that journey. It's been a heck of a ride. I am the same guy in some respects, but I'm not even close to being the same guy in a lot of others. We all look to get better and improve.
From that standpoint, I probably get reminded of it more than most because I'm still asked to sign three or four of those covers about every week. They keep showing up. I don't know if they keep making them or they just keep showing up.”