What projected to be a fruitful awards season for the Pittsburgh Pirates has been precisely that.
One day after pitcher Francisco Liriano won the Sporting News’ National League comeback player of the year award, with teammates Mark Melancon and Marlon Byrd finishing second and third in the balloting, the same publication revealed that Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle is its NL manager of the year.
A panel of 19 MLB managers deemed Hurdle the senior circuit’s best on-field leader, while also dubbing Boston’s John Farrell the AL’s finest manager. Both men could be considered turnaround artists, although their respective time frames are quite different.
Farrell led the Red Sox to the AL East title after a last-place finish in 2012, whereas Hurdle’s work in Pittsburgh has been more of a slow burn. The Pirates went 57-105 in 2010, their final season under the direction of John Russell, leaving Hurdle the task of helping an organization with promising young talent deliver on its potential.
The Bucs improved to 72-90 in 2011 and 79-83 in 2012, but both seasons were marred by precipitous slides in August and September. Perhaps that made 2013 all the sweeter, as Pittsburgh went 94-68 to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 1992. Unlike Farrell, who took over a team seemingly primed for a rebound, Hurdle had many more demons to exorcise to revive the Pirates.
Hurdle has taken tremendous strides over the past three years, mainly in the implementation of advanced data mined by the Pirates’ front office. Pittsburgh was one of the most aggressive teams in baseball when it came to defensive shifts, and the club eschewed many of the bunts and hit-and-runs it had employed in 2011 and 2012.
In other words, the Pirates put their players in better positions to succeed than it had previously, with Hurdle at the forefront of the adjustments. Also, his indomitable personality is ideal for baseball; Hurdle’s frequent admonition to “shower well” after games reminds the players to embrace the everyday nature of the sport.
Hurdle never met a microphone or voice recorder he didn’t like; that media-friendliness certainly doesn’t hurt him in this era of increased coverage in pro sports. Combine that with the Pirates’ breakthrough on the field, and it’s difficult to remember that many observers were looking at 2013 as a must-win season for Hurdle to keep his job.
He seems to be rather secure now, with this award only burnishing his credentials. Hurdle may have made his managerial name in Colorado, but he’s fully blossomed in Pittsburgh.