Kevin Gorman: If Pirates’ shortcomings were ‘collective,’ why only fire Clint Hurdle?
In an awkward attempt to avoid serving up a scapegoat for this colossal disaster of a season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, general manager Neal Huntington called it a “collective shortcoming.”
Call it whatever you want. Pirates chairman Bob Nutting fired one man, Clint Hurdle. Perhaps it’s the first of many. For now, the Pirates pinned their problems on their manager.
“Ultimately, we felt that there is a shelf life to every manager’s position,” Huntington said, “to every general manager’s position, really, to every position.”
Except, you know, his position.
If you were expecting a complete housecleaning, you must be disappointed with Nutting’s pronouncement (on paper) that he strongly believes that Huntington and his leadership team “are the right people to lead our baseball operations department.”
As housecleanings go, this was a rearranging of furniture.
Don’t get me wrong: Hurdle deserved to be fired. The Pirates could have justified it for losing 24 of 28 games after the All-Star break alone. That was long before the player-coach and player-player scuffles and subsequent suspensions made it look like Hurdle had lost complete control of his clubhouse.
“We felt like this was a time to have a new voice, to have new leadership in that clubhouse,” Huntington said, before breaking into a long-winded celebration of Hurdle’s larger-than-life personality and all of the good he did for the Pirates.
Pirates bench coach Tom Prince got choked up talking about what Hurdle has meant to the organization and the depths from which he brought the Pirates back to the postseason.
“It was not a very good day for us,” said Prince, who served as interim manager for the 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the season finale Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. “Those are the tough days in the game of baseball. It hurts a little bit.”
But if you think Pirates players were broken up about Hurdle’s dismissal, think again. They didn’t know what to expect, whether there would be a sacrificial lamb or wholesale changes, but some believed a new manager could spark a turnaround.
“I think Neal hit it spot on when he mentioned it was just time, time for something new,” Pirates pitcher Chris Archer said. “In any line of work, if you’re in one place for too long, some things get repetitive, some things get redundant. … I think a new voice, a new message might be welcome, especially with all of the drama that’s been going on this season.”
The Pirates had no shortage of drama, and Hurdle only fanned the flames when he said that they needed to “win more games” and “sell more tickets.” That suggested his job security had as much to do with attendance (1.49 million) this season as it did the Pirates’ 69-93 record and last-place finish in the NL Central.
Hurdle’s parting shot was a sign of disconnect between the manager and the front office. Hurdle can only coach the players Huntington provides, and this roster left a lot to be desired.
The Pirates could have justified firing Huntington for two lopsided trades alone: Sending Gerrit Cole to Houston, where he’s become a Cy Young candidate, and trading Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and prospect Shane Baz to Tampa Bay for Archer, who hasn’t come close to being a staff ace.
What’s worse was Huntington’s roster building and response to season-ending injuries to staff ace Jameson Taillon and right fielder Gregory Polanco. The Pirates promoted Triple-A’s and traded for DFA’s, never daring to increase payroll. Huntington’s top free-agent splash, outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, never played an inning. Jung Ho Kang was a bust. All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez was arrested. The list goes on and on.
So why exactly is Huntington still in charge?
“It’s a fair question: Why am I sitting in front of you, and we’re getting a new manager?” Huntington said. “It’s a very fair question, and one that I wish I had a better answer for. We’re working to get this right again. We’re working to get the Pirates back into the postseason. And we’ll continue to show up every day to get better and to put this club back into October baseball.”
We’ve heard that line from Huntington before. Except for this: We now know that Vazquez won’t be pitching for the Pirates the next time they are playing October baseball.
Huntington also promised to find the Pirates their next, best manager. Or was it the next-best manager? When it comes to the Pirates, you have to wonder whether it truly matters. They will have a new manager but the same owner and management team. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That’s the collective shortcoming that haunts the Pirates.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .