Pirates' Hurdle brings home National League Manager of the Year
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is the best player in a generation to wear a Pirates uniform and is the front-runner to be named National League MVP. But there still are days when even the face of the franchise needs advice.
When that happens, McCutchen goes straight to the manager's office.
“I definitely look to Clint Hurdle,” McCutchen said. “I like to pick his brain and hear things he has to say. He has so much knowledge, if you just poke him, he'll explode with it all. You want to eat up every word he says because he has so much you can learn from.”
Hurdle's mentoring ability helped the Pirates rack up 94 wins this season and sent them into the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. And it's a big reason Hurdle on Tuesday was named National League Manager of the Year.
“I never thought I'd win the Manager of the Year award,” Hurdle said. “Probably some of you in this room thought so as well. I've been able to meet some challenges ... and it is so rewarding for me to see what's happened, to be a small part of a group that's able to bring joy at so many levels.”
Hurdle got 140 points — collecting 25 of a possible 30 first-place votes — in balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The runners-up were Don Mattingly of the Los Angeles Dodgers (68 points, two first-place votes) and Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves (43 points, three first-place votes.)
The only other Pirates skipper to win the award is Jim Leyland, who did so in 1990 and '92.
When he was hired in November 2010, Hurdle took over a team that lost 105 games. Three years later, the Pirates were in the playoffs.
The BBWAA award is recognized by MLB as the game's “official” manager of the year honor. Hurdle also recently was named the NL's top skipper by The Sporting News. The Pittsburgh Rotary Club will fete Hurdle as its manager of the year Saturday at the seventh annual Chuck Tanner Banquet at the Rivers Club, Downtown.
“Clint's been a remarkable presence in the clubhouse and in the community,” owner Bob Nutting said. “He's embraced Pittsburgh. He's been a remarkable leader to these young players. Frankly, he's made all of us step up our games. He brings an inspirational leadership, attitude and presence every day.”
Under Hurdle's watch, the Pirates did not win the NL Central this season. But they did conquer history.
This year, the Pirates snapped their streak of 20 losing seasons, the longest by a North American pro team. They made the playoffs for the first time since 1992. And they turned PNC Park, which sat mostly empty on too many game nights in the past, into a humming funhouse.
“There's a vibe in this ballpark when it's full,” Hurdle said. “This is unique. This is intimate. It's not elegant intimate; it's blue-collar intimate. I mean, this is Pittsburgh. These people are grinding right there with us. It's one of the reasons I signed up here, to re-bond a city with its baseball team.”
Winning will do that. Hurdle has a 245-241 record in Pittsburgh. It's the most victories by a Pirates manager in his first three full seasons with the club since Chuck Tanner won 282 games from 1977-79.
There were plenty of challenges. In 2012, the Pirates seemed poised to make a playoff run but collapsed over the final two months of the season.
This year, Hurdle had to deal with injuries to closer Jason Grilli and most of the starting rotation as well as an inconsistent offense. Hurdle had to be careful not to burn out rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole and endured clashes with veteran A.J. Burnett. He painstakingly propped up Pedro Alvarez's confidence and squeezed production out of platoon shortstops Clint Barmes and Jordy Mercer.
As he's done throughout his career as a coach and manager, Hurdle adapted his style to the players on his roster.