Tim Benz: Botched firing of Clint Hurdle typical of 2019 Pirates
Given the news cycle of the last week, this may be hard to do.
But play along with me if you can.
Imagine that the Pirates simply fired Clint Hurdle after the season ended Sunday evening.
Hurdle manages Game 162. The franchise gives its sendoff to Steve Blass. The Pirates lose to the Reds and see their loss total rise to 93. The players do the shirts-off-their-backs routine. Lockers get cleaned out.
Clint Hurdle gets fired on Monday.
Would anyone have been surprised? Or angry? Or confused?
Oh, sure. As we see now, there would be some grousing that Hurdle was the only one canned, while no one in upper management was dismissed.
But I feel the dismissal of Hurdle would’ve been largely applauded by the fan base anyway.
A third mind-bending, second-half collapse in nine years. A third losing season in four. Clubhouse chaos. Dreadful fundamentals. Major statistical regression from some key components of the roster during the year.
It was time to fire the manager. And most fans have been calling for it to happen for months.
“We felt like this was a time to have a new voice, to have new leadership in that clubhouse,” GM Neal Huntington said during a press conference at PNC Park Sunday afternoon.
So how did this seemingly simple act get so screwed up? I mean, even if the Pirates kept Hurdle against public sentiment, they wouldn’t have looked as bumbling as they have for the past few days.
On Wednesday, The Athletic published a story stating that Hurdle had been given assurances he would be back next season.
Before the game ended, the team released a statement stating that no such decisions had been made.
Then, during a postgame press conference, Hurdle backpedaled and refused to clarify after his team’s win against the Chicago Cubs that day.
“My intent and desire is to manage this team next year,” Hurdle couched. “I don’t want to misrepresent. I plan on being back. The conversations we’ve had, Neal and I are planning for the future all along those ways.”
So public perception changed. Maybe Hurdle spoke out of turn or was just being presumptuous.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. Hurdle spent 20 minutes speaking with the media about all sorts of plans he and the franchise had to make things better in 2020.
“I continue to hold fast when I evaluate things,” Hurdle said. “I look at honest, realistic information, and then guided and guarded optimism that is fueled by belief, not hope.”
About 90 minutes later, before the beat writers who were in that scrum were done transcribing Hurdle’s statements, the Pirates announced he would be fired.
Now, a day that was supposed to be a celebratory farewell for Blass and a melancholy au revoir to baseball for a few months was a dour goodbye to the only manager to get the Pirates above .500 since Jim Leyland in 1992.
Within the span of a week, Hurdle went from a guy most fans were looking to drive to the airport to a sympathetic patsy who appeared hard-done-by and mistreated on the way out the door.
Especially since everyone else got to keep their jobs.
It was all so painfully typical of these Pirates.
Since the offseason, this franchise’s management team has been closing its eyes and throwing darts at a board. Like most other things being thrown by Pirates pitchers this season, they missed the mark.
“We wanted to give Clint the opportunity to potentially know he was managing his last game as Pirates manager,” Huntington said. “To talk to the people he has loved and that have loved him.
“Calling him to the office tomorrow, with most of his team and staff out of town, didn’t sound like the right thing to do.”
Ok. Tell him Saturday night after the game then. Why not? I mean, did ownership set the unacceptable loss total at 92 games instead of 91 or something?
That way Hurdle could’ve avoided that ridiculous dog and pony show with media looking ahead to next year.
Huntington should’ve told him Saturday postgame. That would’ve afforded Hurdle the opportunity to come in Sunday, say his good-byes, address the media — or not — with all the cards on the table.
If word had leaked out and Hurdle decided to manage that last game, given the tenor of the day with Blass, I bet Hurdle gets a standing ovation. A thanks for the memories. Thanks for the three straight playoff seasons. Now let’s turn the page.
Or just turn over the day to Tom Prince. Whatever.
Anything would’ve been better than how it went down off the field.
Much like anything would’ve been better than how this season went down on it.
I’ve heard all the conspiracy theories. Hurdle leaked that quote on Wednesday purposefully to get himself fired.
I’ve heard Huntington told Hurdle he’d be back, only to be overruled by president Frank Coonelly and/or owner Bob Nutting.
I’ve heard the idea from some fans that the Pirates stretched out Hurdle until Sunday morning because they were mad he put them in a rough spot last week.
To me, each idea sounds just as farfetched as it does entirely plausible.
Why not, though? Why shouldn’t the 2019 Pirates end in this state of chaos, confusion and failure?
That’s how they operated all year.