04/27/2002 00:24 am ET
Hurdle brings new attitude
A different style will hopefully bring different results
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Clint Hurdle, in his well-worn Colorado Rockies sweatshirt, pitched
batting practice before the club's game with the Philadelphia Phillies at Coors
Field, as he has so many times over six seasons.
Afterward, Hurdle dragged a large basket filled with baseballs toward the
dugout -- usually a lonely endeavor. But Friday he had to pass a gauntlet of
"I've been lugging this around for six years: I do this every day, now today
you're going to take my picture?" said Hurdle in the booming voice he always
used for the clubhouse joke of the day or a motivational tale when he served as
the Rockies' hitting coach.
But now Hurdle lugs around a new title: manager.
The Rockies fired Buddy Bell on Friday and promoted Hurdle, 44, the club's
hitting coach for six years and a key player development instructor in the
club's chain for three years before that.
The hope is that Hurdle's booming voice, which carries words of honesty
tinged with humor, will trigger an excitement and confidence that has been
lacking as the Rockies skidded to the worst record in the National League at
6-16 and the worst start in their 10 seasons of existence.
He gave an example during the press conference, in front of a large media
contingent and club employees in the Coors Clubhouse restaurant in the stadium.
"I fired the hitting coach today," Hurdle said, breaking up the room. "We've
come up short offensively more than we have in any other area. That's it. I'm
not afraid to pull the trigger."
"I have big shoulders. I take the responsibility and it's something we're
continuing to work through."
Bell attracted fierce loyalty from his players, a trait that had much to do
with his undermanned 2000 team grabbing first place in the National League West
until early July before a lack of talent and some financially driven moves
helped drive the team to fourth place and an 82-80 record. As the Rockies lost
they pressed harder by the day and defended their manager in the media.
Colorado ownership and management finally decided a different personality
would create a new mood and new result. The Rockies plan for Hurdle to manage
for the rest of the season and have a chance to retain the job.
"I think Clint has the respect of the players, the same way that Buddy did,"
general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "I think, obviously, Clint's personality is
much different. I think Clint will do a good job, I really do."
His self-depreciating jokes aside, Hurdle's work as a hitting coach has
brought positive results.
Hurdle's patient work with an overly intense young Todd Helton early in his
pro career helped Helton develop into one of the game's top hitters. He quietly
has given Larry Walker space or instruction when he needed it, and Walker has
responded with three NL batting titles the past four seasons.
His approach has worked with players who aren't stars. Todd Hollandsworth was
struggling with Los Angeles before being traded to Colorado, but Hurdle found
the keys to help him become a solid hitter late in 2000 and last season. Gary
Bennett credited Hurdle with giving him the offensive tools necessary to go from
being stuck in Triple-A to the Rockies' Opening Day catching job this season.
"He really knows our personal situation, rather than bringing somebody in here
brand new," O'Dowd said. "I think Clint has the attributes to be a helluva
Now players who were successful under Hurdle in the past must regain form.
Going into Friday, Helton had overcome an early slump and had pulled his
average to .266 but had just two homers after hitting 49 last season. Walker was
hitting .300 but had just four homers. In the past week, Juan Pierre has seen at
least four balls that would have been hits last year caught by left fielders
playing in the shallow part of the outfield where he hits the ball.
Hollandsworth and Bennett were two of four players batting below .200. The
Rockies need Pierre to get on base consistently to trigger the running game, and
Hollandsworth runs when he plays with confidence.
With the exception of Walker, these are guys best described as, to use a term
Helton has used for himself, "hit-or-die guys." The Rockies figure that if
Hurdle brings a relaxed clubhouse atmosphere, these players will relax and
"Maybe he can shake us up a bit," Helton said.
Hurdle's playing career began with sky-high expectations that could have
consumed someone who let his own intensity consume him. He was a Sports
Illustrated cover boy and arrived in Kansas City in 1977 at 20, then embarked on
a journey to five teams and several positions -- catcher, outfield, first base
and third base. He ended it in 1987 with a .259 average, 32 home runs and 193
Stardom never materialized, but he developed the traits that made him a
candidate for managing jobs in Arizona in 2000 and Houston last year, and led
the Rockies to promote him.
"I'm good at enthusiasm," said Hurdle, who managed for six seasons with the
New York Mets system before joining the Rockies organization. "I'm good at
talking positive things. I think I bring a little bit of intelligence to the
game of baseball. I've been around a bit.
"I'm motivating them. I'm getting after them. I'm challenging them. I just
want them to bring what they've got to the table every day. That's all. If we do
that, we'll win ballgames."
So on his first day on his new job, Hurdle brought what he always has -- a
basket of baseballs to work with, a personality to play with and the hope that
the Rockies can win with it all.
Thomas Harding covers the Rockies for MLB.com. This story was not subject
to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.