Clint Hurdle’s firing kills the Christmas spirit in Pirates’ clubhouse
The last day of the miserable 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates season started strangely, yet peacefully.
Clubhouse musician and starting pitcher Steven Brault was listening to Michael Bublé’s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
One of the last things Clint Hurdle said to reporters before he was fired Sunday was a brief mention of Christmas music.
It just proves the one truth about the former manager of the Pirates: He’ll talk about anything and often do it cheerfully, even in the face of a 93-loss season.
“Oh, it’s been more challenging,” Hurdle said Sunday before he was fired. “Maybe more challenges in the last half of the season than the first 16½ years (as a big-league manager). “Truthfully.
“But, I think, there’s a part of every day that does feel like Christmas. If you lose sight of that, … if you go home and you’re carrying some baggage around and you got a wife and kids, shame on you. For any of us, if we can’t find Christmas, if we can’t joy in what we do in some particular point in time, shame on us.”
Trevor Williams, the starting pitcher Sunday, suggested the one-day change from the usual musical offerings over the clubhouse sound system, which typically range from Latin American to Drop The Mic rap.
As Hurdle explained, Williams told him, “Every day in the majors is like Christmas.”
“It’s perfect,” Brault said. “Very good point.”
The day changed dramatically, however, when the Pirates executed the firing of Hurdle an hour before Williams threw the first pitch.
When reporters returned to the clubhouse after the 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the music was turned off, the mood was “somber,” according to Williams, and players said their goodbyes to each other wondering what the new manager might think of them.
Hurdle’s men assumed he would return, if only for the practical reason that he had two years remaining on his contract.
Now, the team needs a new manager on top of everything else. Those things include:
• More and better pitching, starters and relievers.
• Another slugging bat in the outfield if Gregory Polanco’s shoulder remains a question mark.
• Perhaps a veteran catcher.
Now, the Pirates need a manager to put it together and keep it that way in the face of difficult opponents in the National League Central.
“It’s going to be tough,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a long off-season to see what we do and what direction we take.
“I’m thankful I don’t make that decision. I’m thankful I just have to worry about getting myself ready for 32-plus starts next year and, hopefully, pitching into October.”
Count Williams among those who didn’t necessarily think a new voice was needed in the manager’s office.
“He really believed in me and I believed in him back,” Williams said of Hurdle. “I’ve always hated when the players do bad, the coaches and managers take the blame. This is my first real experience with that.
“I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that the guys in this clubhouse believe in each other and really want to fight for each other, regardless of what’s going on.”
The season ended with catcher Jacob Stallings playing the last game without a backup. Elias Diaz was shut down last week with an ankle injury and Triple-A call-up Steven Baron suffered a broken jaw when hit by an errant pickoff throw Saturday night.
It was just one of a variety of injuries suffered by the Pirates this season. A total of 28 players made 33 appearances on the injured list. There would have been more, but an injured list is not necessary in September with the expanded rosters.
“Stallings was a centimeter away from us calling up our bullpen catcher,” Williams said. “That would have given me Bingo on the year.”
But no one was suggesting injuries were solely to blame for Hurdle’s firing or the last-place finish – 22 games from first place in the National League Central and six behind the fourth-place Reds.
Pitcher Chris Archer talked about his respect for Hurdle, but also how change is needed.
Not surprisingly, there was plenty of optimism in the Pirates clubhouse.
Josh Bell, who finished the season with an injured groin after hitting 37 homers and driving in 116 runs, said he believes “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“A lot of things we didn’t expect going into this year happened. We’re all here,” he said. “We all rummaged through it.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .