Hurdle is a terrific hire


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For one day, I'm going to try to forget that the Pirates are owned by Bob Nutting.

For one day, I'm going to force myself to believe that a new manager -- any manager up to and including Casey Stengel -- can make a difference with the worst franchise in baseball.

For one day, I'm going to look past the team's 57-105 record last season in its 18th consecutive year of losing.

For one day, I'm going to ignore the fact that the organization has the worst pitching in the big leagues with precious little help on the way any time soon.

For one day ...

Clint Hurdle is a terrific hire by the Pirates. I still can't believe he agreed to work for Nutting. He's better than the franchise deserves.

Hurdle couldn't have made a stronger first impression Monday. He was smart, funny and personable. He is a positive-energy guy and a good baseball man. I can't wait for the first day of spring training. I know, the glow could be gone as soon as mid-April when the Pirates are below .500 again and on their way to another 100-loss season. But we'll fret about the losing then. Now is not the time.

For one day ...

Forget that Hurdle talked of holding the Pirates to "a very high degree of accountability and responsibility." I believe John Russell -- a manager of few words -- said the same thing before him three miserable seasons ago. And Jim Tracy two miserable seasons before that. And Lloyd McClendon five miserable seasons before that.

Can we stipulate that we've heard that tired sermon before?

I liked more that Hurdle talked about "perseverance," a quality he's surely going to need before the Pirates become a winning team, if it ever happens. "I asked my wife to marry me twice," he said. "She didn't back me off the first time. She said no. I came at her again."

Can you imagine John Russell telling that story?

You have to like a guy who goes hard after what he wants.

I also liked that Hurdle quoted Joe Paterno, the greatest college football coach of all time. Maybe that will offend some Pittsburghers who are jealous of Paterno's extraordinary success and staying power at Penn State, but so what? Memorized from a slip of paper that Hurdle says he has carried with him for 12 years: "You've got to believe deep inside yourself that you're destined to do great things."

If Hurdle really, truly believes he's destined for greatness with the Pirates, who am I to argue?

For one day ...

Hurdle clearly is a smart man, a guy who once turned down an academic scholarship to Harvard. OK, so maybe that wasn't his brightest move, but I think we can agree he's intelligent enough to know what he's getting into with Nutting, who has shown neither the ability nor the willingness to make the financial commitment it takes to have a winning team. Hurdle said he asked "some very tough questions" not just of Nutting, but of Pirates president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington, who have been called by Nutting, with no justification whatsoever, "the single-best management team in all of baseball, maybe in all of sports." Even the humorless John Russell must have laughed hard at that description.

"I just wanted to make sure everyone was all in," Hurdle said of his "unique" discussions with the Pirates', ahem, Big Three. "I felt the pride. I felt the passion. I felt the commitment ...

"After my conversations with these men, there were no reservations whatsoever. We're going to get this done. We're going to get it done together."

Honest to goodness, I want to believe the man. I want to believe Nutting, Coonelly and Huntington, which is almost impossible to do.

For just one day ...

Hurdle said there are similarities with these Pirates and the Colorado Rockies, whom he took over as manager in 2002. He developed a collection of talented young players into National League champions, even if it took him six seasons to do it. He said that experience -- not to mention a core group of players including Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker -- will help him get it done here.

"In 2002, I had kids in my neighborhood in Colorado wearing Rockies gear to school and getting beat up," he said. "Those kids don't get beat up wearing Rockies gear anymore."

Hurdle also was a finalist for the New York Mets' job. I have a hard time believing he would take the Pirates' job if he thought he could land in New York, but those close to him say he would have been a bad fit there because of the micromanaging of the Mets' front office and the scrutiny that goes with the job. He would be just another manager there, win or lose. But in Pittsburgh, if he happens to pull off a miracle and wins, he would be king forever.

"This wasn't about taking a job because it was a sure thing," Hurdle said. "It's the right decision. It's the right organization with the right people at the right time.

"This is eventually going to turn. There's no doubt in my mind that it's going to turn. I wanted to get on board because I believe now is the time it's going to start turning."

Spring training can't get here soon enough.

That's what I'm thinking.

For one day, anyway.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published November 16, 2010 5:00 AM


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