Tim Benz: Clint Hurdle shouldn’t be Pirates’ only scapegoat | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: Clint Hurdle shouldn’t be Pirates’ only scapegoat

Tim Benz
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stands behind second base and watches the team take batting practice before a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

The word “scapegoat” has been used quite a bit in the wake of Clint Hurdle’s firing as Pirates manager.

I felt like it was inappropriate. So I double-checked the definition.

Merriam-Webster defines the term this way: “A goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur.”

OK. A bit more literal than I was expecting. Plus with Hurdle’s bad hip, I don’t want him wandering around the wilderness.

And no one should individually carry the sins of that Pirates bullpen in 2019. That’s too much to ask of any man or beast.

The more common definitions are: “One that bears the blame for others.” And, “One that is the object of irrational hostility.”

That’s where Hurdle doesn’t fit. Hostility toward any aspect of the Pirates from their fans is totally rational.

The team on the field lost 93 games. The players in the locker room physically fought with one another. Some of them took giant steps backward in terms of productivity during the season and frequently illustrated deplorable fundamentals.

Yeah. Hostility toward the manager is warranted.

Furthermore, while Hurdle is bearing the blame for others who kept their jobs in upper management, some responsibility should be left at his feet.

Hurdle’s teams finished below .500 in five of his nine seasons. Their second-half collapses in 2011 and 2012 were the stuff of legend. This year wasn’t much better.

So let’s not absolve Hurdle from responsibility as we are in a rush to condemn those that are still in management.

Or, more specifically, ownership.

Yes. Bash owner Bob Nutting for how he has let his team operate. Be critical of him for retaining team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington while Hurdle was cast aside.

Rip on all three of them for the sloppy manner in which Hurdle’s tenure was publicly terminated over the last week. That was a farce. Because, despite these flaws we have discussed, Hurdle deserved better than that.

Much better. He was a dedicated ambassador for the team. And he accomplished what every Pirates manager since Chuck Tanner couldn’t.

He left Pittsburgh with a winning record.

No, not even Jim Leyland did that.

It was time to part ways, though.

“The players we put on the field, how do we get them to play at their highest level?” Huntington wondered out loud. “Those are the really important things. As a baseball department, we are working to get this right again.

“I’m not sure that there is ever a great clubhouse culture in a losing environment,” Huntington continued. “Part of a clubhouse culture is a drive to win, a commitment to each other. We finished over .500 a year ago, but it wasn’t where we wanted to go. We fell short of expectations in ‘16 and ‘17.”

All that was a non-specific way of saying Huntington is trying to get better results and maybe a new manager will help.

I can’t fault that logic. Especially in the wake of the last four seasons, how can you argue?

However, I’d also suggest a bigger budget, better talent evaluation and improved roster construction would help to that end far more than anything an on-field manager can do.

That’s where Nutting, Huntington and Coonelly come into the crosshairs. It’s a reality that isn’t lost on Huntington himself.

“What I’m attempting to avoid is the feeling of scapegoating,” Huntington said. “This is not all Clint’s fault. Clint has worked his tail off. We are all shouldering blame in this.”

Huntington referred to the issues surrounding the Pirates as a “collective shortcoming.”

That’s accurate. Here’s the problem, though. Hurdle is the only goat from the “collective” kicked out of the herd.

Or is it a flock? A pack, maybe?

Regardless, all the other goats are getting fat off a bucket of oats from revenue sharing dollars and corporate contracts.

What happened to Hurdle is not scapegoating. He’s got blood on his hands for sure. Sending him out to the wilderness shouldn’t anger us.

Keeping the other goats around is what should make you mad.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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