UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Hurdle brings outsider’s (and insider’s) perspective

When the Rockies began their search for a new General Manager last spring following the resignation of Jeff Bridich, the popular opinion was that they should recruit someone from the outside, someone who would bring a fresh perspective to the team’s inbred front office.

How about someone with a fresh perspective AND institutional memory?

That’s what the Rockies are getting in Clint Hurdle, announced last week as the latest addition to GM Bill Schmidt’s team. Hurdle’s title is Special Assistant to the General Manager. He’ll work primarily in player development.

Critics wasted no time pointing out that Rockies owner Dick Monfort effectively “stayed in-house” by bringing back a former “member of the family.” But there’s more to this decision than mere lasting loyalty.  

As most Rockies fans know, Hurdle was with the organization for quite a while, from 1994 to 2009, first as roving minor league hitting instructor, then major league hitting coach, then manager for six full seasons and parts of two. He was the manager when that 2007 version of the Rockies went all the way to the World Series. He has the most victories (534) of any Colorado manager.

But he also managed the Pittsburgh Pirates for nine seasons after he left the Rockies—and led them into the playoffs three straight years, the first one ending two decades of mediocrity for the once-formidable Bucs. Before that, he was hitting coach for the Texas Rangers when they went to the World Series for the first time—in their 50th season. And prior to joining the Rockies the first time, he managed at four levels in the New York Mets’ minor league system.

The point is that Hurdle has seen how several organizations function—for better and for worse. And so, it would seem that he can provide that “outsider’s perspective” that many consider so valuable, even essential.

At the same time, though, Hurdle knows a lot of Rockies history, much of it ugly.

He was there when the club made the Jim Leyland mistake, the Hampton-Neagle whoppers, and several other missteps.  He was the “take-one-for-the-team” front man as the Rockies dug out of the hole those gaffes produced, presiding over seasons of 74-88, 68-94, 67-95 and 76-86 before that 2007 team caught fire in September and rode 21-of-22 right into the World Series.

“I have never been one to back away from hard work, to roll up my sleeves,” he told me during an interview for my Game 163 book. Talking about those grim days before 2007, he said: “They wanted somebody who would be part of the heavy lifting, and somebody who was positive, optimistic . . .”

This time around sounds a lot like that.

The Rockies have stumbled through three straight losing seasons: 71-91, 26-34 and 74-87, and have followed one PR disaster with another. They allowed 2016 National League batting champion DJ LeMahieu go to the Yankees in free agency after the 2018 season, traded superstar cleanup hitter and Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado to St. Louis before last season, and let shortstop Trevor Story walk via free agency this off-season. 

As Special Assistant to the General Manager, Hurdle will spend most of his time evaluating players—at both the major league and minor league levels—as well as assessing amateurs before that draft next June. But he also told the Associated Press he’s “looking forward  . . . to helping out wherever they need me.” And he told me he “couldn’t say ‘no’ to Billy Schmidt,” whom Hurdle got to know when he was with the Rockies previously.

“I think the world of Clint,” Schmidt told Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. “I think he can be a big help to me, not only with our players but also with our staffs in the minor leagues. Clint has a lot of experience in baseball. I’m really excited about this.”

To Thomas Harding of MLB.com, Schmidt said: “I think he can bring a lot to the table for everybody and help me just, you know, help get us where want to get going.”

Hurdle will be in Denver “plenty,” he assured me, and will spend time on the road, visiting the Rockies’ minor league teams. But this kind of job also will allow him to spend ample time with his family in Florida, something that’s a priority.

The timing of this move is interesting. Hurdle’s hiring is effective January 1, 2022, which means he’ll be on board to advise Schmidt on all of the free agents who become available whenever Major League Baseball reaches agreement with the players union and ends the player lockout.  He’ll also be able to add his two-cents’ worth regarding any trade Schmidt might consider once labor peace is restored.

One need only to look at the Pirates of 2011-2019 to see what Hurdle brings to the table. In that time, he became the fourth-winningest manager in Pirates history with 735 victories and a .505 winning percentage. (The Pirates joined the National League in 1887 and have won 50.2% of more than 21,000 games in 134 years.).  He wasn’t responsible for acquiring all of the players who made the Pirates winners after 20 straight losing seasons, but he certainly had plenty of input.

The bottom line, as Bill Schmidt put it so well, is:  “He can help us get better.”

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.