There probably is no more complicated issue in sports than that of determining the final grade on the weaknesses and strengths that a manager or coach brings to the job.
Everyone thinks they can. Everyone has a instant opinion of Mike Tomlin, Dan Bylsma and Clint Hurdle. But, in truth, very few -- and certainly none of us -- have anything approaching the information necessary to make such an evaluation.
Take, for example, Hurdle, whose contract was extended through 2014 yesterday by the Pirates. His record with the Pirates is as mixed a bag as you might find and defies a neat analysis.
In two years on the job, since succeeding John Russell after the 2010 season, he has overseen two monumental collapses. But also the rise of those teams which, in both cases, were to heights no one who followed the team remotely expected.
So how do we rank Hurdle?
* On getting the Pirates better than anyone expected?
* Or on them collapsing more completely than anyone expected?
The people who can best evaluate coaches are their employees -- the players -- and their employers -- the general managers, who, for the most part, hire them. But neither group is likely to be willing to publicly offer a grade.
Mike Tomlin gave a great answer in self-evaluating himself after last season. ``I’m an 8-8 coach,'' he said of the man who oversaw an 8-8 team.
The best manager/coach I’ve personally dealt with is Jim Leyland. He is a shrewd strategist who can match wits with anyone and also has a very special ability to relate with players, a trait that remains with him even in his late 60s. But as good as he is, Leyland can be viewed through vastly different prisms just in his work with the Pirates.
* He was the manager who oversaw three straight division winners that were a combined 92 games over .500.
* He also was the manager who lost three straight League Championship Series.
* And the manager who was 64 games under .500 in his final four years with the Pirates, the seasons that began the on-going 20-year losing streak.
Under Hurdle, the Pirates have gone from 57 wins to 72 wins to 79 wins. It’s easy to say there’s no big deal about improving on the terrible 2010 team, but Hurdle was dealing with remarkably similar rosters while the team improved by 15 games.
If the bottom line on a manager is, as Tomlin suggests, winning than the Pirates did the right thing in extending Hurdle, even if his record as manager of the team is 151-173. He has, in my estimation, done better than expected. And, yes, I am aware he’s only had one winning season as a manager.
It’s not like the next great manager is honing his skills at Indianapolis or some other minor-league outpost. Unlike football, baseball doesn’t seem made to groom young coaches. It’s entirely possible that the Pirates could not do better than Hurdle.
The Pirates had a club option on Hurdle for 2014 so there was no contractual need to extend him. But that's no way to treat an employee who has done a good job. It's also a show of faith by ownership. If Hurdle loses the confidence of the Pirates and is fired after the season, the team will be ridiculed for extending him. But the Pirates did the right thing. Hurdle earned his extension.