March 03, 2011
BRADENTON, Fla. — Clint Hurdle has an interesting life. He is currently the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the manager of the Colorado Rockies before this and he took that team to the World Series in 2007. If you ask most baseball fans under 30 about him, they will tell you that he is a baseball manager. A guy they once saw on MLB Network, too.
That would be accurate, of course. But if you asked an older selection of fans, they are likely to note that Hurdle is a member of that weird fraternity of SI cover subjects who got an appearance before they ever panned out. In March 1978, Hurdle was the Cory Snyder or Jeff Francoeur(notes) of his day, looking like Patrick Duffy's twin brother and anointed as "This Year's Phenom." He was coming off a successful cup of coffee in 1977 (two homers and seven RBIs in 26 at-bats) and expected to be one of the Kansas City Royals' next big stars.
Of course, things didn't quite work out that way for Hurdle. He only hit 32 career homers while bouncing around multiple teams for 10 seasons and earning a spot among Rick Reilly and the 1999 New York Mets infield ("The Best Infield Ever?") as names that aren't mentioned around polite company at the Time-Life offices any more.
However, it strikes me that the experience has probably equipped Hurdle with a unique outlook as he inherits a young team with a few stars in the making. Andrew McCutchen(notes) and Pedro Alvarez(notes) are at the top of the list while guys like Jose Tabata(notes), Neil Walker(notes) and Brad Lincoln(notes) are all somewhere below them.
No matter where they fall on the expectations scale, they have a new skipper that they can lean on when it comes to navigating the tricky road of being young and being shouldered with a lot of expectations. That he didn't ultimately succeed doesn't matter as much as Hurdle's ability to relate when it comes to being the center of attention and hype.
So what advice does Hurdle have for McCutchen in the wake of MLB Network naming him as the best center fielder in the game despite only playing one full season so far? How about for Alvarez as pundits predict a career of multiple All-Star appearances?
"I tell them that there's a lot of information out there on the Internet. Some of it's even accurate," a straight-faced Hurdle told me on Wednesday, chiding me when I laughed. "The one thing we can't control in life is other people's opinions. We can't control what people think, what they say, what they write, what people do.
"We try to tell them that one thing people love to do is throw out superlatives and build them up," he continued. "But a lot of times, those same people are the same people to bring them down when things don't go their way. I tell them to play it close to the vest. The people that know you? Listen to them. Stay grounded. Work hard."
As a baseball lifer, Hurdle now has enough perspective to try and impart to his players that no matter how huge the hype, one's reputation is really only as good as the next pitch or at-bat. And since he used to be in the same position of awesome preseason expectations, he can provide a viewpoint that not all managers can.
"I tell them that there's two types of people in this game: Those who are humble and those who are about to be," Hurdle said.