PITTSBURGH >> The Pirates fired manager Clint Hurdle before today’s regular season finale against Cincinnati following a stunning second-half collapse that dropped Pittsburgh to the bottom of the National League Central and included a series of off-the-field issues.
Pittsburgh entered Sunday 69-92, including 25-47 since the All-Star break.
Hurdle went 735-720 in nine seasons with Pittsburgh, helping the franchise emerge from 20 years of losing to reach the playoffs three straight years from 2013-15. The Pirates never advanced past the Division Series and are assured of a third losing season in their last four years. Hurdle had two years left on an extension he signed in 2017.
Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington called it “an extremely difficult decision” for the organization.
“We’ve all fallen short,” Huntington said. “We all haven’t done what we needed to do to not have this day. Clint’s tenure here should be celebrated. He was the absolute right man at the right time. He walked into the door in a very tough situation and he’s the manager who helped lead this major league team to a winning season for the first time in 20 years, to three consecutive (wild-card) berths. Unfortunately, we’ve fallen short these last couple of years. I need to continue to emphasize that this is a collective shortcoming.”
Bench coach Tom Prince filled in for Hurdle as manager in the season finale, and Huntington will explore both internal and external options. Prince and special assistant Jeff Banister — who took the Texas Rangers to the playoffs in 2013-14 before returning to Pittsburgh — both have deep ties to the organization.
Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said in a statement that he had “a great deal of appreciation” for Hurdle’s contributions to the organization. Nutting called 2019 “easily the most difficult season” of a tenure that dates to 2007. While Hurdle is moving on, Huntington, whose contract runs through 2021, is not.
“I strongly believe that Neal Huntington and the leadership team that he has assembled are the right people to continue to lead our baseball operations department,” Nutting said.
Hurdle becomes the fifth departing manager. San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy and Kansas City’s Ned Yost announced their retirements, San Diego’s Andy Green was fired on Sept. 21, and the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and Chicago announced Sunday he will not return.
Oakland’s Bob Melvin, hired in June 2011, becomes the longest-tenured manager in the major leagues.
Hours before his departure, Hurdle said he had guarded optimism about the direction of the team despite its post All-Star break funk. Pittsburgh entered the break at 44-45 but promptly lost 24 of its next 28 games. He told The Athletic last week he had received assurances he would return in 2020.
Today, he allowed that it’s a manager’s job to sell tickets. Attendance at PNC Park has dropped in lock step with Pittsburgh receding from contention in recent years. Pittsburgh entered today averaging just 18,348 fans, down from 30,847 when the club won 98 games in 2015.
“When you don’t play well, the responsibility falls upon the manager of the team,” Hurdle said. “Then the people that make those decisions on whether the manager stays the manager goes, coaching staff goes, coaching staff stays, players go, players stay, that’s what front office does. . I’ve always felt I have a really good grasp on what my accountability and responsibility is. I’ve never shirked away from it or never not owned up to it. So, absolutely not winning enough games falls right here.”
Off the field, pitcher Felipe Vázquez was charged with statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors, all felonies, and a misdemeanor count of indecent assault of a person under 16 years old.
Reliever Keone Kela suspended for an argument with a team official, and Vazquez and reliever Kyle Crick got into a fight that resulted in Crick needing season-ending surgery on his right index finger.
Huntington indicated no single factor led to the move.
“There were some other things that we could have handled differently,” he said. “Again, this is not a criticism of Clint. There is no one thing that led us to this decision. It’s easily summed in new voice, new leadership, new direction in the clubhouse but I’m not saying it’s his fault. I’m sitting here wearing it. We are wearing it as an organization, and we’re going to work our tails off to never be in this spot again.”