Bucs' resurgence earns Hurdle NL Manager of the Year
Skipper guided Pirates to 94-win season, first playoff berth in 21 years
Clint Hurdle, always quick to defer credit to his players for his team's success, can't pass the buck on this one.
The Pirates skipper has been selected 2013 National League Manager of the Year, an overwhelming choice in voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Hurdle received 25 first-place votes and was listed second on the other five ballots cast by writers. He was the only manager in either league named on all 30 ballots.
2013 MANAGERS OF THE YEAR
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At the moment of the award's announcement on MLB Network, Hurdle was momentarily speechless, and when he finally spoke, his voice cracked with emotion.
"It's a bit overwhelming," said Hurdle, who a few minutes later had regained his composure to tell reporters assembled in PNC Park, "On behalf of the Pirates, I will accept it ... and break it off into little pieces for everyone to share.
"I'm feeling very humbled to be in this position because of the efforts of so many others. I'm pleased to accept the award on behalf of the organization."
The first Pirates manager chosen for the award since Jim Leyland in 1992, Hurdle finally gets to take the bow for reviving the dormant franchise he was so reluctant to accept during a 94-win season that jolted Pittsburgh back to baseball life.
"I'm humbled to get to represent this organization. There were so many people involved. I'm just the guy in the dugout," Hurdle said.
His bosses joined the chorus congratulating him.
"On behalf of the entire Pirates organization, I would like to congratulate Clint on being named the National League Manager of the Year," said club chairman Bob Nutting. "Clint's passion is infectious. 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. I have the deepest respect for Clint. I have seen firsthand the hard work, commitment and passion that Clint brings every day, not only to our team but also to our community. I am proud to have him as our manager."
"I could not be more pleased for Clint on this well-deserved recognition," said Pirates president Frank Coonelly. "He has not only made our players and coaches better, he has made our entire staff better. In addition, Clint has quickly become a true Pittsburgher and our community is better as a result."
General manager Neal Huntington recalled going out of his way to try, unsuccessfully, to find someone to say something negative about Hurdle before settling on him as the Bucs' next manager three years ago, almost to the day.
"We got so much positive information on Clint, and he's met and exceeded every expectation," said Huntington, speaking at the site of the GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla. "Not only on the X's and O's, but as a leader, a communicator, a connector and a developer of players. His connection with the city ... he came in with the idea to rebond this city and ballclub. He's helped us take huge strides to do that."
The BBWAA's Manager of the Year Award dates back to 1983. Billy Meyer and Danny Murtaugh received an earlier version of that honor from The Sporting News, making Hurdle only the fourth different Pirates manager so honored.
Here's a previously overlooked feather in Hurdle's cap: 94-68 in 2013 moved his three-year record at the Pirates' helm over .500 (245-241), a remarkable achievement given the depression into which he had walked in November 2010.
He had, nevertheless, shown up with a vision, for which he had attracted early scorn. Opening his first Spring Training camp, Hurdle invited people to "laugh if you want, but we'll head into season with the goal of winning the NL Central."
"This is why I came here. I envisioned this," Hurdle said on the eve of the Pirates' first playoff appearance in 21 years. "I believed it would happen. I played my part."
He also played his relatively modest hand well. Often cited but still remarkable, the Bucs won only three fewer games than a St. Louis club that out-hit them .330 to .229 with runners in scoring position and scored 149 more runs.
"Sometimes you've got to believe in things other people can't see," he had said of having set lofty 2013 goals in Spring Training for a team that hadn't fielded a winner for 20 years.
For his own motivation, and as a carrot for the players, Hurdle compiled a to-do list and the Pirates went about checking off items one by one: winning on the road (44-37), taming the West Coast (9-6), a winning record for the first time within the NL Central (45-31).
Hurdle's optimism was contagious in the clubhouse. He instilled in an overall young club the confidence that they could do it even before they went out and did it. That disposition served the Pirates well whenever they hit a bump in the road, such as a 1-5 start that kept open the wounds of 2012's collapse out of contention.
Besides teaching them to believe, Hurdle taught the Pirates to revel in team, not individual, success.
"We were truly a definition of teamwork," he said. "Nobody was looking for credit, only the collective result."
Hurdle showed up every day ready to battle for his team, sometimes literally. He tied for the most ejections among Major League managers with six, sharing that distinction with Dale Sveum, the former manager of the Cubs.
The Manager of the Year Award is a nice reward. Hurdle's biggest reward, however, came late in the season when, to celebrate the team's appointment with the playoffs, Pittsburgh-area schools held "Pirates Day."
"All the kids showed up wearing Pirates gear," said Hurdle, who saw it firsthand at his kids' schools. "And it wasn't [Willie] Stargell or [Al] Oliver. It was [Neil] Walker, [Andrew] McCutchen, [Jason] Grilli those kids were nuts about."
Yesteryear's idols had given way to a new band of Pirates in whom to take pride. Hurdle had played his part. Tuesday, he was applauded for it.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.