Pirates clearing Hurdles with new manager

New Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle listens to the National Anthem before the start of the...

New Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle listens to the National Anthem before the start of the Pirates home opener National League MLB baseball game against the Colorado Rockies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania April 7, 2011. (REUTERS/Jason Cohn)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 PM ET

Clint Hurdle's message to his players when he took over managing the worst team in pro sports was simple:

"Someone will turn around this franchise? Why not us?" said the Pittsburgh Pirates manager before Wednesday's game at the Rogers Centre.

The Pirates entered this season, their 125th, coming off a year in which they were last in hitting, last in pitching and second last in fielding.

They led the majors in one category last year: Losses.

Only 105 if you are a Bucs fan pulling out what's left of your hair at home.

The 2010 season marked 18 consecutive losing seasons -- the worst string in pro sports.

Yet, here are the Pirates and their $42-million US team salary with a winning record as the curtain comes down on June.

The Pirates have had seven sellouts in their first 39 home dates at beautiful PNC Park. Attendance is up. They set a PNC record of 39,483 Saturday and topped it on Sunday.

"I've been on some bad teams before, never 105 losses, you take humiliation, anger and fight into the winter," Hurdle said. "With a managerial change, every player starts with a clean chalk board. I was the new guy coming in for Buddy Bell with the Rockies, I'm sure guys were happy when I walked out."

The Pirates have been the missing link in Pittsburgh sports "city of champions" tagline.

The Steelers won and made those along the banks of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers smile.

The Penquins won and made Steel City proud.

The Pirates? They lost.

Hurdle, who never sees a glass half full, only overflowing, is one big reason.

"There's a huge difference from talking to my friends and neighbours," said Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava, a Pittsburgh-area resident. "They're excited about the Pirates again. Hurdle has brought excitement to the city, energy to the team. It was a good hire."

As a player, Hurdle was loud -- in team meetings if someone spoke in a low voice, someone would say "could you please speak into Clint Hurdle, we can't hear you."

He doesn't need a microphone to make an announcement on a bus.

When he met with chairman of the board Bob Nutting and president Frank Coonelly he said he asked questions. He had been hitting coach of the Texas Rangers, who went to the World Series. He had an offer from the New York Mets, where he spent nine seasons.

"I asked some hard questions about the future," Hurdle said. "By the end the fit felt like a comfortable pair of old jeans. I could put on a Hawaiian shirt."

Hurdle talked about the past with his players, not the recent past.

How the team got it's nickname: In 1890 the Players League folded after a year and players were expected to re-join their old National League teams. Second baseman Louis Bierbaur, who left Brooklyn, stayed with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Pittsburgh was accused of "pirating" and the team nickname stuck.

Of it's rich history: Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Ralph Kiner and Bill Mazeroski and World Series in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971 and 1979.

Hurdle credits right-hander Jeff Karstens, 5-4, with a 2.66 ERA this year, compared to 3-10 with a 4.92 ERA a year ago; right-hander Charlie Morton, 7-4, with a 3.77 ERA, compared to 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA in 2010 and Wednesday's starter Paul Maholm, 4-8, with a 3.21 ERA when he was 9-15 with a 5.10 ERA a year ago.

"Throw out Maholm's wins and losses, he's improved," Hurdle said.

"We've pitched well, we've fielded the ball. Our offence is held together with chicken wire, duct tape and spit."

Now Hurdle is a darling in Pittsburgh.

"I had a parade thrown for me in Denver when the Rockies reached the World Series," Hurdle said, "and they threw one when I was fired."

Which was longer?

"We'd have to look back at the tapes," Hurdle said with a laugh, his voice filling the manager's office, as he's helped fill PNC Park.


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