What keeps the Pirates’ Clint Hurdle coming back for more after nearly 50 years in baseball?
Clint Hurdle pondered the question, repeated it, then spent almost two minutes answering it.
In a season of turmoil and losing, finally, a topic the Pittsburgh Pirates manager wanted to embrace with both arms.
Before the game with the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night at PNC Park, Hurdle was told he has appeared in 4,771 major and minor league games as a player and manager (not counting spring training and his eight seasons as a hitting coach). That goes all the way back to 1975 when he was a first-round draft choice (ninth overall) of the Kansas City Royals.
“What was that number again?” Hurdle said, writing it on the calendar on his desk. “Geez, that’s a lot of games.”
The number raises plenty of questions, but the first one is probably the most important, considering the uncertainty surrounding his status with the Pirates.
What brings him back after not missing a professional season for 45 years? Make it nearly a half-century of baseball if you count his time at Merritt Island (Fla.) High School.
“I have a love for the game of baseball,” Hurdle said. “I have a passion for the game of baseball. I loved watching it. I loved playing it. I loved coaching it. I love managing it.”
More importantly, “I also love what it does to other people. It promotes community. It promotes teamwork. It promotes (seeing) families coming out and enjoying the game.”
But everyone has an expiration date — he has repeated that simple bromide many times in his PNC Park office — and his could be approaching.
So far this season, only one manager has been fired: 42-year-old Andy Green by the Padres. There was lots of pressure on Green, whose team signed Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million contract. Hurdle’s situation is different but nearly as tenuous.
Of the 30 managers, 25 were hired within the past five years, which would make Hurdle (if he returns for his 10th sason) the longest-tenured major-league manager with one team.
To some, age doesn’t matter. The A’s Bob Melvin, 57, has his team atop the American League wild-card standings in his ninth season.
“It’s not so much about the time,” Pirates pitcher Chris Archer said. “It’s how you treat people. I’ve had (young) managers who were great and managers who have been around for almost as long as I’ve been alive who are great, too.”
As for Hurdle, the 31-year-old Archer said, “The experience alone, you respect it immediately.
“He’s encouraged me to be myself the whole time (he has been in Pittsburgh), the good starts, the bad starts, the more meaningful games, the less meaningful games. I really appreciate that.”
Catcher Jacob Stallings said he had a conversation with Hurdle before the game Thursday.
“We talk leadership. He’ll send me texts quite often, inspirational quotes,” he said. “I had a conversation just about leading and sometimes (what) the right ways to go about it are and the wrong ways to go about it are.”
Despite his baseball longevity, Hurdle knew immediately what he would be doing if he wasn’t a manager.
“There’s a good chance I would be volunteering somewhere for people I thought I could help impact and help along the way,” he said. “We’re special-needs parents, and that is a community that could use support and help every day.”
Daughter Madison, 17, was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder. Hurdle is the Prader-Willi national spokesperson.
“What it’s done for our family, it has opened up a world of care from other people,” he said. “They could care less that Maddie’s daddy manages the Pirates. They do things for Maddie because that’s what they do for all kids. You see a compassionate side of life that you don’t normally see.”
The baseball offseason begins Monday, and Hurdle plans to meet with his bosses and players, review the miserable season and, of course, find time for a 20th wedding anniversary celebration with his wife, Karla.
Will he get good news from Pirates owner Bob Nutting before that?
“He has a guaranteed contract, so we don’t have any reason to think that he’s not (coming back),” Archer said. “The hope in the clubhouse is we just get back on the right track, whatever that is. I think with Clint here it’s possible.”
Stallings said that question is for those team officials above him but said, “I hope so.”
Whatever fate awaits Hurdle, he will continue to respect the game.
“You sit back, and you watch talented men play and compete. At the end of the day, somebody wins, and winning matters,” he said.
“That part of it just never gets old for me.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .