Clint Hurdle was a Sports Illustrated cover boy at age 20, was past his peak three years later, all but washed up before turning 25, and the last nails in the coffin containing his career as a player were hammered in place before he hit 30.
He won more games than any Rockies manager in franchise history, brought the World Series to Colorado in 2007 and still finished 91 games under .500 in just under eight seasons, leaving Colorado via pink slip in the spring of 2009.
But to hear those closest to him tell it, he’ll be back with the Rockies before season's end — a move that could eclipse the club’s quiet activity leading up to the July 30 trading deadline — a single trade sending reliable relieve Mychael Givens to the Reds for two starting pitching prospects and a cash exchange with the Reds for former Rockies pitcher Ashton Goudeau representing their only action.
For his part, Hurdle plays it coy. He won’t say directly what he and the Rockies have talked about, but every word Hurdle utters sounds like an affirmation of his return to the Rockies as an exclamation point on a season of endlessly surprising transitions.
“It’s never not good coming back to Denver, and it’s never not good coming back to Coors Field,” Hurdle said, navigating twin double negatives in an exclusive interview with the Daily Planet, while watching batting practice before the High School All-American Game at Coors Field as part of July’s All-Star Week. “I’ve been fortunate to come back a handful of times in the last 18 months. Trip related, friend related, family related, the big excitement at the opening of McGregor Square. Shared some words about Keli (McGregor, team president until his sudden death at 47 in 2010). Incredible job from (Rockies owner) Dick Monfort’s vision over there.”
Hurdle speaks like a man who's either just been hired by the Rockies or who is lobbying hard to be hired. A Rockies spokesperson said last week there’s “nothing official yet,” which, if it were a tealeaf, would indicate Hurdle should be in place soon. The only question remaining is in what capacity will he return?
“However he's utilized by the organization, it's a bonus,” manager Bud Black told the Planet Thursday. “I don't know how much you know or what's out there, but if he's involved, it's a good thing. It's wonderful.”
His five decades in baseball and 16 years in the Rockies organization present multiple possibilities:
• Team president? The club named Greg Feasel to the post earlier this season, despite his having no baseball experience other than being VP for business affairs with the Rockies.
• GM? After parting ways with Jeff Bridich, the Rockies said they wouldn’t fill the role until after the season, with Bill Schmidt filling in temporarily and earning flying colors by Colorado standards, meaning he hasn’t alienated the players, the fans or the rest of the league.
• Manager? Whatever ails the Rockies, it isn’t Bud Black. He’s crafted the most respected starting rotation Colorado’s ever seen in less than five years at the helm, and the games have been far more competitive than the 44-59 record through Thursday indicates.
“I've known Clint for a long time, professionally,” Black said. “He can add a lot. He has a great relationship with Dick, Greg, he knows this organization, and he knows people in it. He's experienced. He's got a great perspective from a lot of different chairs; ex-player, ex-manager, ex-coach. He can be a great sounding board for all of us.”
Rest assured, Hurdle would be a sounding board who’d never not be happy sounding off, to borrow his syntax. Hurdle is a walking, talking antidote to every criticism summoned up about the Rockies, and he seems bent on selling every aspect of the franchise every time he speaks.
“At 26 years old, the ballpark is as good as any park in the big leagues,” Hurdle told the Planet from the Coors Field dugout, anticipating the global attention converging on Colorado for All-Star Week. “As far as the baseball activity, there are so many fans that have no clue what they're walking into. It's going to be a ton of fun, with all the youthful enthusiasm of the stars getting involved. It’s a good thing for Denver.”
After 44 years in professional baseball — he was drafted at the age of 18 and made his big league debut with the Royals at age 20 — Hurdle has been out of the game since 2019, shortly after being fired nine years into his tenure as the Pirates manager. His subsequent reintroduction to youth baseball has had a noticeable impact on the baseball lifer, igniting something in him that had gone dormant.
“I actually found myself in that space the last 20 months, by coincidence initially, and then I kind of gravitated towards it,” Hurdle said of his recent work with junior high and high school players. “It's really stirred my passion again. I'm having fun in that youth space, that amateur space. This is fun, to watch them play, see how much they've developed already, and maybe share something along the way to help them out.”
• Roving Minor League hitting coach?
• Community relations director?
For now, he claims contentment with being somewhat anonymous amidst a field of high school prospects at Coors Field.
“They just looked at me as an older guy that's maybe been around baseball a little bit, so it's kind of refreshing,” Hurdle said. “There's no nuance to it, there's no slant to it.”
Before he was fired by the Pirates, he was fired by the Rockies — not even two years removed from the Rockies only pennant and their sole trip to the Fall Classic. Is he ready to jump back into the nuanced, slanted-against-you challenge of guiding, advising, counseling or cheerleading the Rockies?
“I've been following the Rockies (forever, per his eye roll), and more so the last 20 months, after I left the Pirates,” Hurdle said of his 16 years in purple pinstripes. “They've always been a team of passion for me, my family. Dick Monfort and I have remained friends over the years. Greg Feasel and I have been friends. I've known some guys 30 years, people who have been in this organization. I'm always pulling for them; I'm always rooting for them.
“I love Buddy Black,” Hurdle continued, about the man he chose as his pitching coach for the 2008 All-Star Game. “His coach Ron Gideon, first base coach, was the best man in our wedding. Stu Cole (third base coach), I was his hitting coach at Triple-A. There's a lot of tie-ins.”
Hurdle is still family for a franchise that thinks of itself as a family first, often to its own detriment. As modern masters of mediocrity, the Rockies hang on to incompetents longer than a drunk uncle deserves, and they resisted filling McGregor's empty seat until this spring — 11 years after his death.
McGregor and Feasel both came from football backgrounds, and the Rockies need an outsider to bring a new perspective to the team, or at least a baseball perspective at long last. Hurdle’s no outsider, but every fiber of his DNA is stitched by the seams of baseball.
“I've been pulling for the Rockies every game they play,” Hurdle said. “I love the energy on the club. Who doesn't like the starting pitching? The effort they're getting out of everybody. The way these guys are working to get better every day and to bond up? The road thing’s been kind of crazy, nuts this year, more so than ever before. But they're still going out there bailing.”
Hurdle even flirts with the role of apologist-in-chief, defending sacrificial scapegoat Jeff Bridich.
“A lot of those pitchers were under Jeff's watch when he was here,” Hurdle said of the rotation that’s redefined pitching at Coors Field. “The development of the organization’s hot. There’s a lot of fingerprints on success.”
Hurdle represented the Rockies at the First Year Player Draft, scheduled this year as part of All-Star Week in Denver, his third high-profile appearance in Colorado in less than a month. It’s a largely ceremonial job with no apparent responsibilities, perhaps foreshadowing the kind of role well-suited to a colorful character who proved capable of talking the team into succeeding, if only for so long.
“We haven’t had the success here that we want to have collectively, consistently,” Hurdle said, seamlessly slipping into the first-person plural of a man who would have you believe he bleeds pinstriped purple. “That doesn’t mean it's not going to happen. Sometimes you never know how close you are.”
Take that how you will — it functions on multiple levels, depending on who “you” is and what it is “you” is closing in on.
“One thing about baseball, it's gonna ring true forever,” Hurdle summed up. “Good pitching's gonna beat good hitting.
“They're growing up a lot of young players,” Hurdle added, shifting back to a wistful third person.
It won’t be long before we find whether Hurdle’s preferred pronouns are “we” or “they,” with the smart money never not on the former, regardless of where the smart baseball may never not be.
Editor's note: Rockies owner Dick Monfort has since talked to the Planet Thursday and confirmed this story about the Rockies trying to bring back Clint Hurdle.
“We're trying to figure out something to where he can get more involved,” Monfort said about their negotiations. “I think everybody that's been in baseball a long time like Clint, you know, wants to hang in. He loves it here, and we love him, so, yeah.”