Pirates manager Hurdle humbled by pick for Dapper Dan

During a radio interview in spring training, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked about the takeaways from the 2012 season. In the course of his answer, he mentioned 95 wins as a target for 2013.

"If we win 95, we're going to be in a good place," he said on KDKA-FM (93.7 The Fan), referring to the likelihood of making the playoffs with that record.

Over time, the masses transformed that statement from a target, a statistical reality, into the prediction that never was. No matter; they won 94 and made the playoffs.

For his efforts in leading the Pirates to their first winning season and playoff berth since 1992, Hurdle is this year's Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year.

Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction

When: Feb. 6. Auction begins at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m.

Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Tickets: $150 for general seat, $250 for premium seat. For tickets, call 412-263-3850. Proceeds benefit Dapper Dan Charities.

"It's very humbling," Hurdle said this week. "Recognizing how far-reaching the Dapper Dan event goes, and looking over the list of honorees and award winners of the previous years."

Hurdle will be honored, along with Sportswoman of the Year Patrice Matamoros, the Pittsburgh Marathon Chair, at a Feb. 6 banquet at the David L. Lawrence convention center.

For the second consecutive year, the Sportsman of the Year award will go to a member of the Pirates organization. Andrew McCutchen was honored last year. Hurdle joins Ralph Kiner, Danny Murtaugh, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell as winners of the award.

"It has magnitude, obviously, within the area in which we live, but the players put you there," Hurdle said. "The organization puts you there. The help from [owner] Bob [Nutting], and from [president] Frank [Coonelly] and from [general manager] Neal [Huntington], and obviously the effort from the men on the field and the efforts of the coaching staff."

In the three years since Hurdle became manager, the Pirates have increased their win total from 57 in 2010 to 72 in '11, 79 in '12 and 94 this past season. They were in playoff contention at midseason in 2011 and '12, but poor second halves dropped them under .500 and out of the race.

This year, the Pirates earned a spot in the one-game wild-card playoff, against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. After defeating the Reds, they lost the National League Division Series in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The honor does not make up for the fact that the Pirates did not reach their goal, but Hurdle said acknowledging the award represents a step in the process.

"I do think it's important to find ways to measure success and progress," he said. "From an external reading, this is another way to measure the progress. It's tangible evidence of us getting better, more competitive."

The 56-year-old Hurdle has a 245-241 record in three seasons with the Pirates. He has only appeared in the playoffs as a manager once before, while managing the 2007 Colorado Rockies to the NL pennant.

As Hurdle acknowledged, the players drove this year's run. Andrew McCutchen doubled down on his strong 2012 season and earned the NL most valuable player award. Pedro Alvarez hit 36 home runs. Francisco Liriano re-discovered his younger self after missing the first portion of the season due to a broken arm. The Pirates' bullpen was one of the most effective units in the league despite being used frequently.

From the time he arrived in Pittsburgh, Hurdle exuded confidence and optimism even when there was little reason for it. He believed in his team whether its performance backed up those beliefs or not.

Hurdle also impacted the team in tangible ways. He removed pitch counts as a consideration for starting pitchers, instead relying on the eye test to determine when to remove them. That way the pitchers would pitch as the situation dictated and not worry about keeping their pitch count low.

Hurdle also closely monitored the relievers' usage and avoided pitching them too frequently if possible. He tracked the number of times they warmed up during a game and how many warm-up pitches they threw in addition to appearances and innings.

Hurdle speaks often of his goal to rekindle the passion fans in Pittsburgh have for the Pirates. The 2013 season worked wonders in that department.

"To be that person that won it, that's not something I had going in," Hurdle said. "I will forever be appreciative of the opportunity here. I think this is a way, by showing up, accepting graciously and sharing some comments with them, to let them know how honored I am and truly blessed to be able to serve the fans and the communities in Western Pennsylvania. It will be a significant award forever."

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.

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