Pirates fire manager Clint Hurdle
Neal Huntington called this season of losing streaks, clubhouse fights and on-field brawls “a collective shortcoming” by everyone in the organization.
But the only man out of a job Sunday was manager Clint Hurdle, fired at PNC Park an hour before the Pittsburgh Pirates’ last game of the season. He had been the Pirates’ manager since 2011 and is fourth in franchise history with 735 victories.
Before this season, Hurdle, 62, was third among active managers with 1,200 victories, including eight seasons with the Colorado Rockies. He concludes his Pirates tenure with a 735-720-1 record and two seasons left on a contract extension he signed in 2017.
Some members of Hurdle’s coaching staff are sure to follow him out the door, but Huntington said the upper management team, of which he is the leader, will remain intact with a vote of confidence from owner Bob Nutting.
Bench coach Tom Prince managed the team during Sunday’s season finale against the Cincinnati Reds.
“While we are making a change at one position, we certainly recognize that this is all of us,” Huntington said. “We’ve all fallen short. We all haven’t done what we needed to do to not have this day.”
Hurdle was hired Nov. 15, 2010, after the Pirates lost 105 games under manager John Russell. It was the Pirates’ 18th of 20 consecutive losing seasons, a skid Hurdle’s team ended in 2013. That season, the Pirates reached the playoffs for the first time since 1992 with the first of three wild-card berths in a row. They continued the ongoing string of no postseason series victories that dates to the 1979 World Series.
“Clint’s tenure here should be celebrated,” Huntington said. “He was the absolute right man at the right time. He walked into the door in a very tough situation. Ultimately, we felt that there is a shelf life to every manager’s position, to every general manager’s position, really, to every position. We felt like this was a time to have a new voice, to have new leadership in that clubhouse.
“We didn’t get deep enough. We didn’t win a World Series. But we went to the postseason. The enthusiasm and excitement and the number of fans that thanked him and us for making baseball in Pittsburgh relevant again, I hope the further we get away from this day, the more we remember Clint Hurdle and the larger-than-life personality, the good that he did in that dugout, the good that he did in that clubhouse, the good that he did in this community.”
But this season has been tainted by a series of black marks, including five losing streaks of between seven and nine games and a 4-24 record after the All-Star break. The Pirates were 44-45 on July 7, only 2½ games out of first place in the National League Central. Since then, they had won only 25 of 72 games before Sunday.
Plus, the Pirates were involved in two on-field brawls with the Cincinnati Reds, the last of which resulted in Hurdle getting suspended for two games.
A clubhouse fight between relief pitchers Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez ended with Crick suffering a season-ending finger injury.
Nutting did not appear at the hastily called news conference before the game but issued a statement.
“This has easily been the most difficult season of my tenure,” he said. “Today we announced that we are parting ways with Clint, but make no mistake about it, this is by no means a statement that our shortcomings are solely Clint’s fault. The entire organization is accountable, and that begins with me.
“Neal and his leadership team are well into an extensive review of every element of our baseball operations. In addition, as an organization, we need to improve in the ways we connect with our fans. It is very clear that we need to and will be better. There is no quick fix, but we are absolutely committed to the task. I believe we can and will achieve it.”
Only four days ago, Hurdle, who was unavailable for comment after his firing, told The Athletic he believed he would return in 2020.
“Every conversation I had with Clint was about our challenges at the major league level,” Huntington said. “They were about how we address those and overcome them and what we were going to do this offseason and moving forward. If I am to blame for his perception that he had assurances that he was coming back, I will wear that.
“It’s what we do: We prepare for the next (season). We figure out how to get better. I will show up every day that I want this job and that they will have me in this job fighting to get better, to grow and to take on the next challenge. Clint was the same way. If I am the cause of his feeling that he was assured of coming back, I will wear that blame because every conversation I had with him was about getting better and about the future.”
Huntington said the decision to fire Hurdle was made “recently.”
“We’ve debated and discussed this for a couple days and ultimately came to this conclusion recently,” he said.
The Hurdle Timeline
Nov. 15, 2010 — Hurdle is hired to replace John Russell as the 39th manager in Pittsburgh Pirates history. He spent the 2010 season as the Texas Rangers’ hitting coach.
2011 — In Hurdle’s first season with the Pirates, team is tied for first place in the National League Central on July 25 with a 53-47 record before losing 36 of its final 62 games and finishing 79-83, 24 games behind.
2012 — Hurdle leads the Pirates into first place on the Fourth of July and has them tied for the lead July 18. But they end the season on a 28-43 stretch and finish 18 games out of first.
2013 – The Pirates (94-68) finish second in the National League Central and end their 21-season postseason drought by winning a berth in the sudden-death, wild-card playoff. They defeat the Cincinnati Reds, 6-2, before a raucous crowd of 40,487 at PNC Park. They advance to the National League Division Series but lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.
Hurdle is named National League Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America and The Sporting News
2014 — The Pirates reach the postseason for the second consecutive season, again as the No. 1 wild-card team, but lose to the San Francisco Giants, 8-0.
2015 — The Pirates win 98 games — third-most in franchise history (tied with 1991, ’79 and ’08) — but lose to the Chicago Cubs, 4-0, in the wild-card game.
Sept. 30, 2018 — Hurdle records his 1,200th career victory with a 6-5 decision against the Reds in the last game of the season.
July 20, 2019 — In the midst of a 4-24 stretch of losing, the Pirates beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-1, to lift Hurdle past Chuck Tanner and into third place in victories among all-time franchise managers
Sept. 29, 2019 — Hurdle is fired about an hour before the first pitch of the Pirates’ 3-1 loss to the Reds in the season finale. His team finishes 69-93, the worst (by three losses) of his nine seasons in Pittsburgh. His overall record as a manager of the Pirates and Colorado Rockies is 1,269-1,346-1.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .