Sunday, May 31, 2009

5/31/09 - COL 2, SD 5 - "Clint"

Figures that my last article is a piece about what a shame it is that the Rockies won’t fire Clint Hurdle, and then they do, only I can’t spare a moment to write about it until three games deep into the Jim Tracy Era.

There will be plenty to say about Tracy as a manager in the coming weeks and months, to be sure. The one that that will certainly be tested right away is the school of thought that a consistent everyday lineup is more conducive to success because it allows players to find a ‘comfort level’. Tracy’s lineup isn’t chiseled in stone, but he’s definitely writing in pen and not pencil – Clint Barmes is going to hit second, Troy Tulowitzki’s going to hit seventh, and Garrett Atkins is going to hit clean-up.

(Short aside: it’s a sad commentary on the way things have gone this season that Atkins’ 12-hopper through the middle to tie Saturday night’s game in the bottom of the ninth inning was perhaps the most ‘feel-good’ moment of the campaign, but damn if I couldn’t stop smiling and, well, feeling good for Atkins after the game had ended. He may be an offensive corpse, but he’s an offensive corpse in purple pinstripes, and for that, I want to see him hit as much as any player on the roster.)

We’ll see if Tracy’s laid back demeanor meshes better with this roster than Hurdle’s… laid back demeanor. We’ll see if Tracy’s tactical skills, which were frequently credited when he was managing in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, help get the Rockies out of their funk. A series win is a good place to start, but the Rox still need about nine more of them to get back to the .500 mark, so I’ll hold off on giving Tracy a Manager of the Year vote for now.

Like I said, there will be more on Tracy later. I want to write about the old boss first.


He sat in front of the media in a suit coat and tie, not the familiar pinstriped number 13, and said the same things he had said the past seven years: I will not back down from a challenge. I will never quit.

And it was Clint Hurdle’s refusal to do those things that resulted in this franchise’s finest hour, because if ever there was a challenge in the baseball managerial world, it was handling the Rockies teams of the mid-2000’s. They were teams with no designs on winning, the ultimate no-win situation for any manager, but Hurdle kept the ship steady. And eventually those Rockies grew up to win a pennant, and you can say what you will about 2007 in retrospect, but the fact remains that those players peaked in the crucible of a pennant chase, won 89 games, staged a phenomenal comeback in the greatest baseball game of this decade to make the playoffs, and roared through the National League postseason to earn a real, honest-to-God pennant that they’ll never take away no matter how far things have fallen in the aftermath.

But on the other hand, the list of active managers who have helmed a pennant winning team is longer than you might think: there’s Torre and Cox, Piniella and Maddon, LaRussa and Leyland, Francona and Guillen, Scioscia, Charlie Manuel, Bochy, Gaston, and Baker. Add Hurdle to the mix, and until Friday, 14 of the 30 MLB managers had won a pennant in their careers. It’s not the rarefied air you might have expected, meaning Hurdle was no more deserving of a free pass for the team’s underachievement since 2007 because of that shining season.

It’s hard to dance on Clint Hurdle’s grave, because he never went Jim Leyland on the Rockies and quit on them. He showed up and managed the way he always had. It delivered the expected results during the initial Gen-R years, and in 2007, it crested. But as we all expected the franchise to take the next step, it never happened, because Hurdle just wasn’t the personality, in the dugout or in the clubhouse, that would prove capable of steering the team over the next great hill.

So the emotions I felt as I watched the first three games of the Jim Tracy Era were not joyous. I couldn’t celebrate the firing of a good man, and Clint was and is most certainly that above all else. Mostly, there was this overwhelming feeling of unfamiliarity, not seeing Clint on the top step, chewing gum, wearing a stopwatch around his neck, bouncing a baseball up and down with the same nervous energy that I always have watching the Rockies play.

The disappointment of the last season and two months of Hurdle’s tenure is an unfair career eulogy for a man who gave 15 years to the organization. Eventually, when the Rockies have moved on down the road from the Hurdle years, I suspect I’ll only have one distinct memory of the fourth manager in Rockies history. I’ll remember him being interviewed after the final game of the 2007 World Series, after the Rocktober ride came to an end at the hands of a superior Red Sox squad. Then, as in his final press conference on Friday, Clint Hurdle straightened up in the face of hardship and heartache and told the world that he was proud of his team. That they never backed down from a challenge. That they never gave up.

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