DENVER-Clint Hurdle has a simple philosophy about dealing with life as a major-league manager. “I’ve learned that you can’t worry about what other people think, except the people who mean the most to you,” the Colorado Rockies manager said. “I don’t read the newspapers. I don’t listen to talk radio. I mean no disrespect to the people in those lines of work, but you can drive yourself crazy if you worry what they are writing about you in the papers or saying about you on the talk shows.”
While the philosophy is basic, it has been shaped by a life that has been anything but simplistic. As a 20-year-old rookie outfielder with the Royals in 1978, he was considered the brightest prospect in the game and was a Sports Illustrated cover boy. He was a smart enough kid in high school at Merritt Island, Fla., to receive an academic scholarship to Harvard, and athletic enough that the University of Miami recruited him to play quarterback. However, Hurdle never reached major league stardom as he played just 515 games between 1977-87, eventually bouncing to the Reds, the Mets, and the Cardinals, and hitting .259/.341/.403, and a .272 Equivalent Average.
Hurdle’s life off of the field also hasn’t been a breeze. He is on his third marriage, a recovering alcoholic, and the father of a child with a severe disability. Hurdle has also had his share of critics in Denver, as many Rockies fans felt he should have been fired after posting losing records in each of his first five seasons as manager, rather than receiving a two-year contract extension on opening day along with General Manager Dan O’Dowd. Yet, despite all the ups of downs, Hurdle finds himself at the pinnacle of his managerial career, as the Rockies are making the first World Series appearance in their 15-year history. Down 2-0, the Rockies will play their first-ever World Series game at home tonight when they host the Red Sox at Coors Field.
In an era when no one in baseball is especially willing to give the fourth estate even the slightest peek into his soul, Hurdle provides a picture window. He is justifiably proud to have survived the numerous twists and turns in his life to make it to the top and more than happy to share how he has been able to overcome his personal demons. “I hold this near and dear to my heart: I really believe we’re prepared for the future through our past,” Hurdle said. “I really believe if we listen and watch, we can learn.”
The biggest lessons Hurdle has learned are not to rush things and or get too cocky. “Patience has become a very important tool for me, and it’s not one that’s easily learned,” Hurdles noted. “Also, it’s important to keep humility in your back pocket. One of the best things I was told as a young player but never understood until I was an older player is there are two kind of people who play this game, those who are humble and those who are about to be. At the age of 18, I laughed and thought it was cute. Well, by the age of 38, I was wearing it. It’s something that has a lot of meaning to me.”
That has made Hurdle appreciate the seeming unlikelihood of the Rockies getting to the World Series. They were 5 ½ games out of a playoff spot with 15 days left in the regular season, but rallied to run off 21 wins in 22 games to get to the World Series. They won 14 of their last 15 in the regular season, then rallied for three runs in the bottom of the 12th inning to beat San Diego in a one-game playoff for the NL Wild Card berth ,then swept Philadelphia in the National League Division Series and Arizona in the National League Championship Series.
“It’s been very, very special because it has given our organization value and brought joy to a lot of different people on many different levels,” Hurdle said. “It’s a tribute to holding true to what you believe in, and of being sometimes stubborn in your beliefs but not losing faith in the people you’re working with and the direction in which you’re headed. Seeing it through has given me a great sense of gratitude for this opportunity, because in this day of sport not many people would have been able to ride this thing out the way I’ve been given the opportunity to ride it out.”
The Rockies, though, never wavered in their support of Hurdle or O’Dowd despite all the lean years. Now, the rewards have finally come. “I think you have to keep faith in what you’re doing,” Rockies President Keli McGregor told the Associated Press. “We wanted results. They weren’t there. But we kept doing what we thought was right. We had faith in it and that makes this even more special, when you believe and no one else does.”
Hurdle’s players believe in him and many have been around long enough to watch him evolve as a manager. Hurdle rubbed some players the wrong way early in his career at the helm by criticizing them in the media, but he has tempered that and basically become more hands-off. “Clint is the type of guy who makes you feel comfortable,” Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. “He’s the kind of guy, if he still drank, who could walk into a bar, buy a round of drinks and know everyone in the place before he could buy the second round. He’s reached the point now where he basically lets the clubhouse take care of itself. He trusts us and he knows us, and knows we can police ourselves.”
Hurdle has also changed since the birth of his daughter Madison Reilly on August 7, 2002, a little less than three months after he was promoted from hitting coach when Buddy Bell was fired as manager. Madison was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a complex genetic disorder which strikes one in 12,000 people, and whose effects include low muscle tone, development delays, morbid obesity, cognitive disabilities, and behavior problems.
“The purpose of many special-needs children in people’s lives can be a dynamic that you’ll have no understanding of if you don’t have one,” Hurdle said. “It’s a very special fraternity or sorority to enter. You don’t raise your hand and get to the front of this list but once it happens, you’re in. Most importantly, once you’re in, like many things in life; you look for good, you’re going to find good; you look for bad, you’re going to find bad. There’s a period where you need to get through the grieving, the challenges, that big picture of the unknown. Then, it’s kind of how you would eat an elephant-one bite at a time. With Maddie, it’s one day at a time, and that’s really a good way to live life.”