By John Perrotto
The Pirates’ managerial search is nearing an end as they are down to two candidates to replace the fired John Russell. One is Texas hitting coach Clint Hurdle, fresh off an appearance in the World Series. The other is Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister, fresh off a 105-loss season.
Here is a look at both:
Background: The 53-year-old Hurdle just finished his first season as the Rangers’ hitting coach after serving as Colorado’s manager from April 26, 2002-May 29, 2009. He compiled a 543-625 record and led the Rockies to their lone National League pennant and World Series appearance in 2007.
Hurdle joined the Rockies’ organization as their minor-league hitting coordinator in 1994 then was promoted to major-league hitting coach in 1997 before taking over as manager when Buddy Bell was fired in 2002. Hurdle’s non-playing career began with six seasons as a manager in the New York Mets’ farm system. He compiled a 412-418 record at the Class A, AA and AAA levels.
Hurdle was Kansas City’s first-round draft pick and ninth overall selection in 1975 and made his major-league debut with the Royals two years later. He played with Kansas City through 1981 then moved on to Cincinnati (1982), the Mets (1983, 1985 and 1987) and St. Louis (1986). In his 10-year career, Hurdle batted .259 with 32 home runs and 193 RBIs in 515 games.
Hurdle is the national spokesperson for the Prader-Willi Foundation, an organization that raises awareness for Prader-Willi Syndrome, a complex genetic disorder his 8-year-old daughter Madison was born with. Prader-Willi affects about one in every 12,000 people and is caused by the lack of several genes on one of an individual’s two chromosome 15s.
He signed a letter of intent to play quarterback at the University of Miami while a senior at Merritt Island (Fla.) High School but decided to sign with the Royals. Hurdle appeared on the cover of the March 20, 1978 edition of Sports Illustrated.
Pros: He has major-league managerial experience and the cachet of having taken a team to the World Series. He has a strong presence about him, both physically and with his booming voice.
Cons: He is a hitting guy all the way and there were questions about the way he handled the pitching staff in Colorado. His sometimes bombastic personality tends to wear thin after awhile.
The 45-year-old Banister finished last season, his 25th in the Pirates’ organization, as the major-league bench coach, taking over on an interim basis after Gary Varsho was fired on Aug. 8. Banister has spent the past eight seasons as the Pirates’ minor-league field coordinator following a four-year stint as the major-league team’s field coordinator from 1999-2002.
Banister served as a player-coach at short-season Class A Welland in 1993 then managed in the farm system for five seasons between the short-season Class A and Class A levels, compiling a 299-320 record. Banister also managed one season each in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League and the Arizona Fall League.
Banister was the Pirates’ 25th-round draft pick in 1986 from the University of Houston. His major-league career consisted of one game and one plate appearance as he singled off Atlanta’s Dan Petry as pinch-hitter on July 23, 1991 at Three Rivers Stadium to finish his career with a 1.000 batting average.
Banister has overcome bone cancer and osteomyelitis. Additionally, he has undergone seven operations to repair a broken arm and broken leg and has had Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
Pros: He is an excellent baseball man with the ability to communicate and inspire. He understands the acute frustration of an organization that has suffered through 18 consecutive losing seasons as well as anyone.
Cons: He has never managed above Class AA and hadn’t managed at all since 1998 until a stint in the Arizona Fall League last year. He would be a tough sell from a public relations standpoint to a skeptical fan base that wants change.
John Perrotto is a contributor to Inside Pittsburgh Sports. He is editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com