A few random thoughts:
- I know a lot of people (not necessarily our circle here, but a lot of people in the "media") are heaping tremendous praise onto Clint Hurdle. I guess I understand where they would get that, he's enthusiastic and is a great ambassador for the Pirates organization.
However, he also stepped into a situation where a bunch of young guys where ready to take a step forward (I sometimes wonder if he ever really considered the Mets job, and now with the financial mess that the Mets are in, he's either really lucky or knew the team was heading into financial woes).
I always liked John Russell and felt he was a really good guy thrown into a rotten situation. Honestly, while I'm happy to see Hurdle be the Pirates, I believe the team would have had roughly the same record right now under Russell, as they do under Hurdle, because of the much improved play. But that is only up until this point.
That being said, I think Hurdle's biggest influence is yet to come. The real reason I'm happy the Pirates have Clint Hurdle is from this point forward. How this team deals with success is going to be really interesting to watch. As the team gets more successful, egos begin to build. Hurdle has been through this before, whereas Russell hadn't. I'm not sure what would've happened with Russell trying to manage a team of young, successful guys. Could he have controlled it or would they have taken control of him? I'm much less worried about that with Hurdle in charge. Also, what about when the Pirates hit a rough patch (which is bound to happen sometime). I worry that Russell might have gone into a "here we go again" panic mode, whereas Hurdle is likely to brush it off with a "I've seen plenty of hot streaks and plenty of cold streaks in my time not to get too worried about it." The importance of Hurdle has not yet been felt (IMO), but will come to the forefront very soon.
- For those here who live outside of Pittsburgh, it's been amazing just how much Pirates apparel people are wearing around here these days. Every summer you might see a bunch of Pirate hats, but now everywhere I turn, people are wearing jerseys and shirts, too. I was working the Pittsburgh Power (Arena Football) game tonight and not only were lots of people in Bucco gear, but they actually gave Pirate score updates on the scoreboard and the place ERUPTED each time. It was really cool to see 9,000 people cheering and jumping up and down over Pirate score updates. The tide has definitely turned!
- And lastly, I feel like nowhere near enough credit (again, not necessarily here, but everywhere else) has gone in the direction of the one person who deserves it the most. General Manager Neal Huntington. He is the architect of this team. While many erroneously only center on the immediate returns he received in his trades (even the great Syd Thrift had his share of trade bombs -- it just goes to show like with everything else in baseball - hitting, pitching, draft, free agents, etc, trades are much more likely to be a failure than a success. Taking a few players in the system (McCutchen, Walker, Maholm) and combining them with tremendous trade pick-ups (Hanrahan, Karstens, McDonald, Morton, Tabata), some nice complimentary player trades (Paul, Cedeno), some great free agent additions (Correia, Veras, and I'll even throw Overbay in there because I think big things are going to happen with him soon) and taking some nice guys off of other team's scrap heaps (Jones, Resop) and has built a team we can be very proud to watch. The fact alone that he was able to make the most of losing 3 catchers in a short period of time, and was able to find the pretty decent McKenry in the midst of all that, is pretty spectacular).
So I want to stand up on my chair and applaud the work of Neal Huntington, who is never going to get his share of credit for building this team in a very short period of time. No matter what happens the rest of this year, Huntington has restored the pride and excitement of my Pittsburgh Pirates!! Thanks Neal!!