Next week a photography workshop will prevent me from getting to Kauffman Stadium to give my regards to Clint Hurdle. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager will be returning to Kansas City where in the late ’70’s as a Royals player, Hurdle briefly became the talk of a booming baseball town trailing only the great George Brett.
From the first time Hurdle scorched a line drive during the 1977 spring training in Fort Myers, Florida, it seemed clear that Hurdle was on his way to a marvelous playing career well worthy of the “phenom” label attached to the young man by Sports Illustrated before the 1978 season. While hitting a baseball looked so natural, the handsome young man was just as natural with his teammates, the fans and the media. His star quality seemed limitless.
Somehow, that star’s brightness faded far too rapidly. There were so many stories and rumors about the causes of Hurdle’s failure, I doubt even he could have begun to sort through them at the time. Hurdle certainly enjoyed the trappings of his fame, and I witnessed more than a few of them. Yet, as he struggled to match the expectations of so many, including himself, Hurdle never stopped being an open and kind friend.
When Kansas City sent Hurdle down to the Triple-A Omaha Royals in 1979, the late Topeka Capital-Journal writer Pete Goering and I traveled north for an in-depth story about his struggles. Not only did Hurdle talk to Goering at the ballpark, he invited us to join him and his first wife the next day at their Omaha apartment. There the conversation continued well into the afternoon ahead of that night’s game.
It seemed to me that Hurdle welcomed the chance to search for answers, even if some were not what he wanted to deal with fully at the time. It took failure, time and effort, but Hurdle finally found the answers. Hurdle was not the first draft pick, selected No. 9 in 1975, that failed to live up to the high selection. His time in the minors was so brief before he debuted at 20 years old in September of 1977 with a Royals team roaring to their second American League West title. Life was good as were the good times. Even in Omaha, the fans flocked to Hurdle with the hopes this was just a short stop on his way back to Kansas City and true glory. That never happened.
Maybe the reason is that Hurdle never paid his dues the way he has during his managerial career. He managed at every level of the minor leagues before returning to the majors as manager of the Colorado Rockies. His Pirates come to Kansas City as one of the game’s great success stories, second only to the red-hot Royals. As a manager, Hurdle grinds his way through every aspect of the game while studying statistics endlessly. The success he now enjoys stems from the details the young Hurdle never fully understood as a player.
There is one thing this Hurdle fan knows from what I hear and read. His kindness and his openness with players, fans and the media remains the same. That pleases me.