Pirates players balance fondness of Clint Hurdle, willingness for change
One by one, Clint Hurdle’s men lined up outside his office to say goodbye.
Men, not players, by that time. To Hurdle, they were always more than names on a lineup card.
It was difficult for the Pittsburgh Pirates to play a meaningless baseball game Sunday, and they lost it 3-1 to the Cincinnati Reds. But loss No. 93 of 162 was way different because this time, the manager was fired an hour before the first pitch and was not in the dugout with his team for the first time since the 2010 season.
“Not a very good day for us,” said bench coach Tom Prince, who managed the team in Hurdle’s absence. “Those are the tough days in the game of baseball. It hurts a little bit. Those guys in (the clubhouse), they hurt a little bit, too.”
The firing might have been seen as inevitable to some, considering the record and the turmoil in the clubhouse throughout the season.
Pitcher Chris Archer, perhaps the most eloquent of the Pirates, was sorry to see Hurdle go. But he’s old enough (31) and been around long enough (eight big league seasons) to understand the facts of life.
“I’m sure Clint wanted to go out on a higher note than this season,” Archer said. “Like Neal (general manager Huntington) said in his press conference, Clint did a lot of good here.
“He’s been here for a long time and brought the playoffs back to this city. He took accountability for some of the stuff that happened and some of the stuff was out of his control.”
Yet, there was a feeling among upper management and certainly the fans that losing couldn’t be allowed to go unchecked.
“Neal hit it spot on,” Archer said, “when he mentioned it was time for something new. In any line of work, when you’re in one place for too long, some things get repetitive. Some things get redundant.
“For me, it was all new, so I’m not speaking solely for myself. But just for the 25-30 guys on the club, a new voice, a new message might be welcome, especially with all the drama that’s been going on this season.”
But he was quick to add, “Clint left a nice residue, the things that he preached, a lot of them we’re going to keep with us going forward. We all wish the best for Clint. “
Catcher Jacob Stallings knows about people who get fired despite working long hours in the hope of doing a good job. His father, Kevin Stallings, was fired as Pitt’s basketball coach last year.
“I’ve been on the other end of it,” he said. “I know, at least, family-wise what he’s feeling right now.
“I feel a little responsible because at the end of the day, players go out and play the game, and we didn’t do well enough to keep him around, on the field and off the field, frankly.”
Trevor Williams pitched seven strong innings in the loss after giving Hurdle a hug in their final moment together.
“He made sure he looked all of us in the eye before the game and said thank you and said his goodbyes to us,” Williams said. “He just thanked us for, (despite) all the adversity this year, we showed up at the yard still competing and expecting to win, even when we had 10-12 guys on the (injured list). He thanked us for our heart.
“I saw him as I was walking out to the field. Gave him a hug, told him I loved him.”
Prince indicated he’d like to be a candidate to replace his boss, but he said that’s a discussion for another time.
“That’s always going to interest me, but that’s not right now,” he said.
“What he means to this organization and what he brought it back from …. I was actually a player here (from 1987-1993).
“What he did to rebuild it and was a part of that, tremendous. And what he stands for and how he cares about people, more than the game.
“It was an honor to learn some of that stuff from him and watch it. He lived it. He modeled it. Not too many people in the game do that anymore.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .