April 1, 2015
Clint Hurdle obviously doesn't like what he's seeing.
For several minutes, the Pirates manager watches his players run base-stealing drills. Then he just has to interrupt. But when he does, it's not in an explosion of anger or in a fit of flying objects. He simply walks out to the middle of the field and addresses his team.
"Watch the signals, that's all you have to do," Hurdle tells his players in a voice that is far from a yell, but still emphatic and definitive. "When you look good, you get the credit. When you look bad, I get the blame. So you may as well do it right and look good."
The drill resumes. They do it right. "That-a-boy Cervelli," Hurdle yells to Francisco Cervelli, the Pirates' new catcher. Praise, as predicted.
But Hurdle's notion of credit and blame isn't just a truism for this drill. It holds true throughout the season, which his team hopes will last well into October. That's how he has managed this club since being hired in November 2010. He is clearly its leader, and is as much the reason for its success since 2013 as any player on the diamond.
"Clint's the guy who took a losing organization and turned it into a winning one," says Pirates closer Mark Melancon. "He's a great communicator and a great motivator. He's the kind of manager that guys want to go out and play well for."
As fans know all too well, that hadn't been the case in Pittsburgh for a very long time. Since former manager Jim Leyland left in 1996, the team has seen a revolving door of skippers. Jim Tracy, John Russell, Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont all came and went. None of them won, and none of them stayed more than a few years. Once Hurdle completes the 2015 campaign, his fifth, he will have more service time than any of those guys, and will also likely be the only one of them with an overall winning record.
While there was some hopefulness when Hurdle joined the team in 2010, there was also the feeling that Hurdle might just be the next guy before the next guy. On the positive side, Hurdle had taken the Colorado Rockies to the World Series in 2007, only to be swept by the Boston Red Sox. However, in May 2009, less than two months into the season, the Rockies fired him. Hurdle then spent a year as the hitting coach of the Texas Rangers, returning to the World Series (where the Rangers lost to the San Francisco Giants).
His Pirates tenure also had a tumultuous start. Despite posting winning records by the All-Star break in both 2011 and 2012, the team imploded both times, extending the franchise losing streak to 20 seasons.
Those days seem long behind the Pirates. Wild-card berths the past two years have everyone believing that things can be different. Now, when Pirates players use the world "playoffs" and "World Series" in the clubhouse, the reaction isn't an eye-roll, it's a nod of agreement. And while it's the players who win games, they're among the first to tell you where the real credit for that new attitude lies.
"Clint's impact on this franchise has been huge," says first baseman Pedro Alvarez. "He came to this franchise when you had a group of guys who needed a beacon of light, if you want to call it that. Guys needed someone to give them a push and that's what he provided."
Adds shortstop Jordy Mercer: "Not only has [Hurdle] brought a positive vibe to this team, he's brought a winning vibe. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the mix of things each and every year. That's huge."