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The Red Sox Were Not Afraid of Youth. Should the Pirates Take Note?

We were looking at it all wrong

MLB: World Series-Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates are committed to manager Clint Hurdle through 2021. Many feel that this was the absolute wrong move for the organization to make. A recent manager’s success may reinforce that belief.

When the Boston Red Sox hired Alex Cora to be their manager last winter, some had their doubts. Yet the one person whose opinion carried more weight than anyone else, Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski, was undeterred. As he told to the New York Times:

“I think we needed a different voice, a younger voice, a connectivity voice between the manager and the players, with everybody. We have a lot of young guys, and the ability to connect even deeper than what we did in the past, in the clubhouse, I think is important.”

Flash forward to today, and the first-year manager has won the World Series with an obviously loaded team. Yet, principal Red Sox owner John Henry was sure to let everyone know that Cora deserved just as much credit as Mookie Betts or David Price. This, from the Boston Herald:

“He put together a clubhouse that had more unity than I had ever seen,” Henry said. “It showed with day-to-day perseverance, sense of purpose, dedication every day. He had them ready every day. On every level he was a superior manager. He was every bit as good as our best player.”

Cora was 42 when he accepted the Boston job. At the time he was the third youngest manager in baseball. But, it was close. MLB had gone through a wave of hiring younger managers in recent years, and Cora joined Aaron Boone (45), Mickey Callaway (43) and Gabe Kapler (43) in the latest injection of youth at the managerial seat.

By all accounts, Cora excelled at creating the perfect clubhouse culture for his young team (The Red Sox had the 10th lowest average player age at 28, with most of their young stars landing well below that median age).

Need an example? Ok, how’s this:

To bring this back to a Pittsburgh Pirates focus, Cora’s success raises new concerns about whether or not Clint Hurdle is the right manager for this club.

The 2018 Pirates carried the fourth-youngest average player age at 27.2 years old. In no way is anyone suggesting that simply hiring a young manager if you have a young club is a one-to-one recipe for success. Kapler had initial success in Philadelphia before the club lost its way over the summer. Callaway was certainly challenged with the Mets, but could not galvanize the club into any solid stretches.

But, there is enough track record with guys like A.J. Hinch with the Astros (44 as of this writing), Dave Roberts with the Los Angeles Dodgers (46) and the Brewers’ Craig Counsell (48) to discount this theory completely.

Of course, the one thread through all of those teams is a talent level higher than what the Pirates have currently, at least in most spots.

The irony here is that the club might have already realized the importance of youth in coaching roles and how they can relate to today’s players. Pirates pitchers were awfully excited when 37-year old Justin Meccage came up from the team’s minor league system to serve as assistant pitching coach. We may not know — right now, anyway — how much Meccage’s influence affected a unit that took considerable strides in 2018.

But it is certainly not a big leap to take to assume that his presence did not play a huge part.

It is too late for the Pittsburgh Pirates to join baseball’s youth movement in the managerial chair. At least for now. They would be well served to keep the not-so-obvious benefits of a younger manager when they next find themselves in the hiring process.

From that same NY Times article linked above, Cora himself laid out a blueprint for Pittsbugh when that time comes.

“The most important thing is you have to connect,” Cora said. “The baseball operations, the analytics department, the medical staff — if they don’t get together, what’s the point? How are we going to filter the information from these departments to the coaches and to the players? If you can’t accomplish that, then you’re in trouble.”