Hurdle Called an Intentional Walk for Harvard

 For nearly fifty years, Clint Hurdle has been one of the Space Coast’s most revered sons. Just about every resident of Brevard County, Florida, knows he was a multisport Merritt Island High star athlete  as a power-hitting outfielder and unstoppable quarterback. They know he turned down football scholarships offers from the University of Miami and other major colleges to opt for a pro baseball career that included more than 500 MLB games as a starting outfielder and stints as a prominent manager primarily for the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates.

But few know he was also courted by another  famous entity revered worldwide.

Clint was offered an academic scholarship to Harvard University after he was sent one of those much-desired letter of admission approval  from that storied brain factory just outside Boston.

I ran into my old friend recently at his annual Clint Hurdle charity golf tournament at Cocoa Beach Country Club – proceeds to the Merritt Island Dugout Club, boosters of the school’s baseball program. His characteristic robust laugh erupted at the memory of being recruited by Harvard, a member of the Ivy League which prohibits athletic scholarships.

“They wanted me to play football and baseball, but warned that my grades could be a problem,” Clint recounted. “They told me if I got in trouble with grades, I wouldn’t have to attend practices and they would help my grades by providing a personal tutor.” Hurdle recounted, adding the obvious irony; at most big college powers, scholarship warriors must attend practice, but classes not so much . Actually, the Harvard coach shouldn’t have worried about Clint’s classwork. At Merritt Island High, he made one B (in drivers’ ed) and all A’s in the rest of his schoolboy classes. Is he a better driver now? “No,” Clint laughs.

Hurdle, 62, says going to Harvard tempted him, but after the Kansas City Royals picked him in the first round of the 1975 draft, he was off to a 45-year pro baseball career that came to an end (maybe) when he was fired by the Pirates last September and then announced his retirement from the game in November.  “That’s when I signed a lifetime contract with my family. Now I’m enjoying being home with my wife and kids at our (west coast Florida) home and not in airplanes and hotel rooms nine months a year.” Making the transition easier is remaining time on his contract, which the Pirates must pay him for the next two years.

The people of Colorado loved him when he guided the Rockies to 90 wins, most in the expansion club’s 15-year history to that point. Pittsburghers also were charmed by this big guy with a big personality when he turned around the Pirates by leading them to three playoff appearances after a 21-year post-season drought and was named NL Manager of the Year. Then came the 2019 season when he tried to fill out the lineup card each day without his best two pitchers Gerrit Cole (traded to Houston) and Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery); his two best hitters, Starling Marte and Greg Polanco, whose injuries kept them out of a combined 150 games. Franchise star Andrew McCutchen had departed the prior season for San Francisco. Not surprisingly, the Pirates finished way down in one of those old, familiar places in the standings. When the carnage was over, Clint was summoned to the front office. As the old baseball phrase goes: You can’t fire the players, so you fire the manager.

He spent a couple of weeks sitting by the phone. With credentials of leading then-woeful Colorado and Pittsburgh to those franchise milestone seasons, surely somebody would offer him one of the several managerial openings. “But you can’t make people call you or make them love you,” said Clint.

Nevertheless, our session was delightfully interrupted by a phone chat with our mutual friend, Hawk Harrelson, the colorful onetime power hitter and longtime voice of the White Sox. “You can’t judge how effective a manager is by reading what award he won,” offered Hawk. “You do it with your eyes – seeing whether a team plays hard for their manager. All the time he managed,  I saw his players busting their butts for Clint.”

So unless Clint gets an occasional analyst spot on MLB or Fox-TV broadcasts, baseball will have to get along without an embraceable guy brainy enough to convert box scores into logarithms. I’ve been exposed to dozens of baseball managers over my three-decades as a sports writer. I had to think hard of another worthy of an admission letter from Harvard. Winter Park’s Davey Johnson, maybe. But like Clint, even Johnson wasn’t brainy enough to avoid baseball’s cruel pink slip.

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