Clint Hurdle is an optimist, but he can flip the pragmatism switch from time to time.
"I do believe in templates, and understanding when I came in [before the 2011 season], I had a three-year contract," Mr. Hurdle said. "I thought I'd be best advised to get something done in three years. Some tangible evidence of success, some tangible evidence of rebonding a city with a ballclub."
Mr. Hurdle, the Pirates' third-year manager, helped his team get something done and then some. Tuesday he was rewarded, receiving the National League Manager of the Year Award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. It was a reward for helping the Pirates end two decades of futility and return to the playoffs.
"I'm humbled," Mr. Hurdle said at a news conference at PNC Park. "I'm grateful for the organization. I think this is another sign of tangible evidence, of having some success."
Mr. Hurdle received 25 first-place votes out of a possible 30. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who finished second in the voting, got two first-place votes, and Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez got three.
The Braves finished first in the NL East with a 96-66 record. The Dodgers were 30-42 on June 21, but went 42-12 in July and August on the way to a 92-70 record.
"I can't imagine what it'd be like to manage a ballclub with a $230 million payroll, in L.A., and to come out struggling as dramatically as they did and then to finish as dynamically as they did," Mr. Hurdle said.
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, a New Brighton native, won the American League award in his first season with the team. Voters chose Mr. Francona, who led the Indians to a 24-win improvement and their first playoff berth in six years, rather than Boston manager John Farrell, whose Red Sox won the World Series.
Mr. Hurdle became the first Pirates manager to win the award since Jim Leyland in 1992, and the second manager in Pirates history to win. Mr. Leyland also won in 1990.
"Clint's passion is infectious," Pirates owner Bob Nutting said in a statement. "He challenges everyone around him to push forward and improve a little bit every day. He is a great leader, a great citizen of Pittsburgh and a tremendous family man and human being."
The Pirates went 94-68, the franchise's first winning record since 1992, and earned a wild-card playoff berth. They defeated the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card game to advance to the National League Division Series, where they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.
"That wild-card game, that, for me -- three years of yard work from a lot of people," Hurdle said.
The Pirates improved by 15 wins from 2012 to 2013 in the third year of the 56-year-old Mr. Hurdle's tenure.
"From an organizational standpoint, we are a competitive team and we have big dreams," Mr. Hurdle said. "It's not enough to just show up and play hard."
Members of the BBWAA voted on the award, which has been given since 1983, before the start of the playoffs.
Mr. Hurdle finished third in the voting in 2007, when the Rockies went 90-73 and made the World Series, and sixth in 2011, his first year with the Pirates.
In his news conference and on the MLB Network show that announced the awards, Mr. Hurdle referred to the award as one for the organization. He praised his players for their work; Mr. Nutting, for green-lighting in-season spending; and general manager Neal Huntington for the trades that brought Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd to the Pirates.
"If you don't have good players, you don't win games," Mr. Hurdle said. "There's not a guy that's ever going to win this award, or be named a finalist, unless you have a good team. That's what's been rewarding to me, watch these guys grow."
As he has all season, Mr. Hurdle spoke of the great satisfaction he received from seeing Pittsburgh residents once again engaged with the team.
"We need to win, I get that part of it," he said. "But to go out in the street now, every 10 people I meet, there's nine thank you's and one congratulations."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG First Published November 12, 2013 6:23 PM