Clint Hurdle was a player with insanely high expectations placed on him. He had a fine career but was not the superstar that he was projected to be.
But if a few bounces went here or there in the course of his managerial career, he would have received consideration for the Hall of Fame.
I know that sounds absurd, but bear with me. I am not being hyperbolic.
Drafted by the Royals in 1975 first round, he made his big league debut as a 19 year old in 1977. By spring training 1978, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, touted as the next great baseball phenom.
He played well in 1978, hitting a respectable .264 with an OPS of .746. He batted .375 with an 1.125 OPS in the ALCS loss to the Yankees that year. In 1980, the 22 year old outfielder was a .294 hitters with 10 homers. He helped the Royals win the AL Pennant and hit .417 with an OPS of 1.000 in the World Series.
But injuries and inconsistencies derailed his playing career. He bounded between the Reds, Mets and Cardinals, finishing his career with 3 games with the 1987 Mets. His playing days were over before his 30th birthday.
Actually, his addiction to drinking and partying had as much to do with crushing his once promising career as anything.
He found a home in the Mets organization, building up his managerial credentials. Hurdle managed in Class A, then Double A and finally with the Norfolk Tides Triple A team by 1992. He needed to prove that his hard partying days were over and he was willing to be an organization man. He did.
When the Rockies expanded into the National League, Hurdle joined the organization as an instructor and later a coach. As he sought help through AA, he worked his way back to the majors as a coach and eventually was named the manager of the Rockies.
From 2002 to 2006, he was as nondescript a manager as anyone could have. Losing records each years did not exactly inspire confidence. Then with the team on the fringe of the Wild Card Race in 2007, they went on their unreal finish.
They won 13 of their final 14 games to force a one game playoff with San Diego for the Wild Card. They won the wild extra inning match up and swept the Phillies and the Diamondbacks to get to the World Series.
Everyone remembers that the Rockies got swept and Game 1 was indeed an embarrassing blow out. But Game 2 was a tense match up. Jonathan Papelbon picked off Matt Holliday in the 8th inning to squash a potential game tying rally.
In Game 3, the Rockies fought to make it a one run game late until the Red Sox pulled away.
In Game 4, the Rockies lost by one single run and had a potential game tying homer caught at the wall in the 9th.
A few balls bouncing one way or another in Games 2 and 4 and the 2007 World Series could have been a much different affair.
He was let go in 2009, a year when Jim Tracy took over and brought Colorado back to the playoffs.
After spending a year in Texas mentoring Josh Hamilton, another former phenom who battled with addiction, Hurdle took over the hapless Pirates for the 2011 season.
The Pirates had not sniffed .500 since the Francisco Cabrera single that ended the 1992 NLCS. After a few near misses in 2011 and 2012, the Pirates finally had a winning ballclub again in 2013. In fact they won 94 games and took the Wild Card Game from Cincinnati.
In the Division Series, the Pirates went up 2 games to 1 against the favored Cardinals. In the bottom of the 9th of Game 4, St. Louis was up by one but the Pirates had a man on base. Andrew McCutchen was up. If he homered, the Pirates would move on to the NLCS against LA.
Instead McCutchen was retired and they lost Game 5 and St. Louis advanced to the NLCS and World Series.
In 2014, they made the post season hosting the Wild Card Game but faced Madison Bumgarner who threw a complete game shutout to shut down Pittsburgh’s hopes.
In 2015, the Pirates won 98 games but still finished behind the Cardinals. In the Wild Card Game, they went against eventual Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta who, like Bumgarner, dominated the Pirates and ending their post season with one game.
Imagine if the Pirates won that Game 4 in 2013 where they were a swing away from doing so.
Imagine if, over the course of 2015, the Pirates won 3 more games. That year, the Pirates looked like the strongest of the NL Central contenders and probably would have beaten the Mets in the NLCS.
Just picture some of those events bouncing one way instead of the other… the Rockies making the 2007 World Series competitive after the dominating ending and playoffs… taking the Pirates to the World Series after decades of futility.
I am not saying Hurdle would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. But being the leader of two franchises that looked hopeless and bringing them to the World Series would be the sort of accomplishment that is honored.
Instead he is a baseball lifer, a man who is a spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous as well as an avid fundraiser and spokesman for Prader Willi Syndrome, which his daughter suffers from.
I am still rooting for him to win it all as a manager. It will make all of these accomplishments a wonderful prologue.