First post here, but I’m a longtime lurker. I didn’t see a previous thread covering this so I thought I’d start one. (Apologies if these pieces have already been linked.)
With The Collapse™ (Part II) underway and all the chatter regarding the futures of Hurdle and Huntington, I decided against doing actual work and instead went through the Denver Post archives to read up on Hurdle’s exit three years ago. Having never paid much attention to the Rockies, I wasn’t sure what the local storyline was regarding his ouster, other than (of course) that his teams were not very good at winning baseball games, save for one “magical” six week run in 2007.
I found the following 2009 articles below by beat reporter Troy Renck to be eye-openingly informative, especially the second, “Hurdle Couldn’t Have It Both Ways.” Renck has covered the Rockies for the last 11 seasons.
First, I had no idea that Hurdle managed there six years before logging a winning season, which would be his only one, and got a two year extension after year five. As Renck details below, the reasons why he lasted so long, and indeed was hired in the first place, also illustrate why the Bucs front office chose him to succeed Tracy and Russell:
…before putting all the blame on Hurdle's doorstep — and he deserves his share for over-managing and getting in his own way — remember that he embodied everything the Rockies wanted in a manager. He was an organizational advocate, he was never afraid to take blame for the organization, he helped shepherd the youth movement and charmed the community with his big heart.
It is why Hurdle was the first manager in major-league history to start a career with five consecutive losing seasons and not get fired. Rockies ownership and general manager Dan O'Dowd evaluated him less on results and more on his skills as an ambassador.
Hurdle’s shortcomings then and the related performance of his teams sound awfully similar to our own observations and frustrations of the two recent nosedive teams:
What doomed Hurdle was not so much this season's 18-28 record, but how the Rockies arrived in the National League West basement. Despite running a "back-to-basics" spring training, the Rockies were a sloppy team.
Hurdle hurt himself by not acting more forcefully when the mistakes surfaced during the first week of the season.
“…our execution of fundamentals has been terrible. It's been hard to watch," (GM Dan) O'Dowd said. "We have to get better at that…"
"We have to create a culture of what is expected, no matter what our talent level is. We have not done that," O'Dowd said.
What I find most enlightening are these passages:
(After looking at the opening day lineup card and seeing Clint Barmes wasn’t starting) A veteran player rolled his eyes and said: "Why can't our manager just once not be a (jerk)."
The players didn't trust him to do the right thing…He was unintentionally two- faced.
The mixed messages — he alternated between trying to be their friend and their drill sergeant — only complicated matters…He seemed to be reacting, rather than anticipating.
He believed his players hadn't tuned him out, and technically that was true. But they were indifferent toward him, which is just as bad.
Even during Hurdle's most glorious run, when the team won 21 of 22 games in 2007 to reach the World Series, players didn't give him a lot credit. They felt they won despite of him, not for him.
(During the 2007 season) He gave the reigns to the players. Turned over the clubhouse to them. Trusted them. They won, which was the best and worst thing that could have happened. The experiment, in truth, worked because of six magical weeks, nothing more.
You get the idea.
It appears more and more like the Pirates of 2012 were always an average (or below) team with a 10 or so week run of overachieving play that masked the team’s true talents and abilities, duping so many of us into thinking that this year was not like the others, certainly not like last year. Even the national media thought so too.
Before reading the above articles, I was on the fence about firing Hurdle. For some time I’ve felt that although he’s a used car salesman type who’s great in front of the cameras and better suited for the broadcast booth, the front office is the source of the sub-par product on the field, with Hurdle having little to work and succeed with. In short, he was doomed to fail, through little fault of his own.
But in reading Renck’s pieces I now have the picture of an already limited Pirate team made worse through their confusion and/or frustration with their manager, afflicted with low morale, largely governing itself, and whose periods of success they attribute, probably, strictly to themselves. Perhaps I’m projecting based on what I now know of his Colorado tenure, but Clint Hurdle is a man in his mid 50s, and it is my experience that people do not change much at that point in their life; certainly not the managerial styles and philosophies that they attribute—rightly or wrongly—their successes to. At this point he is who he is always going to be. This leads me to believe that he manages here the way he managed in Colorado, and no matter the talent level, the results have been and in all likelihood will be the same: teams with periods of out-of-character success, poor in the fundamentals, who limp lamely down home the home stretch as Hurdle accepts responsibility while talking a good game for the cameras, needing a telescope just to see first place come Fall.
Yes, the talent is lacking, and perhaps the time has come for changes in the front office (my mind is not made up on that front yet), but knowing what I now do, that is a separate discussion and irrelevant to this one. There is no reason to keep an ineffective and ill-equipped manager around who doesn’t maximize his team’s potential, irrespective of how shallow the talent pool may be.
I don’t see any benefit to bringing back Hurdle, and would be surprised if Huntington (or whomever) does. They know the stuff in the articles and even more, of course, having seen it up close for two years. However, if he does return, I imagine it’s because Hurdle agreed to get rid of some coaches (as he did in Colorado) and assures the FO, in his perpetual sound-bite friendly manner, that 2013 will be different, only to be fired in-season because it is not.