Pirates tap Hurdle as new manager

Pirates tap Hurdle as new manager

PITTSBURGH -- He cracked a joke as he took the stage. His booming voice needed no assistance from the microphone.

Yes, newly introduced manager Clint Hurdle talked through many of the same goals delineated by those managers who have come before him -- restoring pride in the organization, building a winning club, engaging a passionate fan base. But for those who criticized John Russell's stoic demeanor, Russell's successor is truly his opposite.

An engaging speaker with a gregarious personality, Hurdle introduced himself to the Pirates' fan base in a Monday morning news conference at PNC Park. There, he repeatedly spit out the phrase, "All in," a slogan that captures his approach to the job and his promise from management about the team's direction.

"This wasn't about taking a job because it was a sure thing," Hurdle emphasized. "This was about taking an opportunity that felt sure. And it fit right. I felt comfortable with the people that I was going to be getting after the job with.

"This is eventually going to turn," he added, specifically referencing the club's string of 18 straight losing seasons. "There is not a doubt in my mind that this is eventually going to turn. I wanted to get on board now, because I believe this is the time it's going to start turning."

Hurdle is now the 39th manager in team history, though none of the past five have been able to produce a winning season in Pittsburgh. He was a candidate that, general manager Neal Huntington confirmed on Monday, the organization highlighted the day Russell was dismissed.

Due to the Rangers' run to the World Series, the Pirates couldn't formally interview Hurdle until Nov. 4. However, that month-long waiting period afforded the organization to do extensive research on its top candidate.

Huntington estimated that he talked with 30 different people about Hurdle's credentials and philosophy. And when Hurdle was finally brought in for an in-person interview, it confirmed everything management had been led to believe.

"We had been told that he was going to be a remarkable interviewee just because of the presence and the intelligence and the passion," Huntington said. "But the alignment of where he is philosophically and where we are philosophically was a terrific fit right away.

"He has the ability to help young men grow up and mature and be ready to take the next step, yet he's also a person that can relate to veteran players and help them get better. He believes in being unified. He believes in cohesion. He believes in a lot of the same things we believe in."

Hurdle, 53, takes over a club that lost a Major League-worst 105 games in 2010. Still, it's one that Hurdle said he sees as very similar to the Rockies' club that he guided to the World Series in '07.

Hurdle joked about how unpopular it was to don a Rockies jersey in 2002, the year that he first stepped in as Colorado's manger. That rebuilding process took plenty of steps and some time, but it did come to fruition five years later. That, Hurdle asserted, is where he sees Pittsburgh headed.

"I'm not going to shy away from talking about a championship," Hurdle said. "I really don't care what people think. You have a young nucleus of good players that grow up together, they learn together, they stumble together, they fight together, and through it all, they emerge as champions together.

"We're headed in the right direction. It's not about taking our time to get there. There's some urgency."

Hurdle noted the starting point, mentioning a handful of times the need for the team to pitch and defend better. Pittsburgh finished last in the league in both areas. Hurdle said he expects to help Huntington identify potential pitching additions this offseason. Deficiencies specifically in the infield defense, he said, will also be addressed.

Hurdle, who turned down a second interview for the Mets' managerial opening to accept this job, noted that management's answers to his questions during the interview put to rest any trepidation that he had about joining the organization.

He asked pointed questions about payroll flexibility and about the pieces in place. He wanted to know more about the plan that Huntington and president Frank Coonelly put in place three years ago, in order to make sure that their short- and long-term goals lined up with his.

"We talked very openly about where we are, where we plan to go and how we plan to get there," Huntington said. "Obviously, he was comfortable."

Hurdle emphasized that he was. He also noted that through his research of the organization -- which included discussions with former Pirates manager Jim Leyland and Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg, a Pittsburgh native -- he felt more and more sure that this would be an ideal fit.

"I know where the Pirates organization has been," Hurdle said. "I know where it is now, and I know where we want to go. I was extremely appreciative of the way [management] defended the fort. They defended the work that had been done and the process that is in place."

The work now begins immediately for Hurdle, as a coaching staff must be assembled and offseason needs must soon be addressed.

Hurdle had the opportunity to meet infielder Neil Walker and reliever Joel Hanrahan at Sunday night's Steelers-Patriots game in Pittsburgh, and he plans to meet other players in upcoming mini-camps. Those who he isn't able to meet face-to-face will likely receive a phone call.

There's the task of getting settled in Pittsburgh, a city that Hurdle said he and his wife, Karla, are excited to make their new home. Fittingly, that new home will be but a few hours away from the legendary coach whose quote Hurdle has kept written on a piece of paper in his pocket for the past 12 years. On Monday, Hurdle pulled it out.

"You've got to believe deep inside yourself that you're destined to do great things," Hurdle read, the words coming from Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

His challenge is now turning such belief into tangible change.

"I'm going to be upfront. I'm proud to be a Pirate," Hurdle said. "We're not going to back down from anybody. We're going to show up and we're going to play. Our focus is going to be on a commitment of excellence that is unique and that is real. We're going to hold ourselves to a very high degree of accountability and responsibility.

"I'm all in."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. T.R. Sullivan contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.