KC Royals: Club’s managing tree has many branches

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The first player some thought could be “The Next George Brett” is among former KC Royals who became major league managers for other teams.

Clint Hurdle was never really out of the spotlight as a Royal. Heralded by some as “The Next George Brett” before he played even an inning in the majors, then chastised when performance rarely matched expectations, Hurdle played through questions and criticism before moving on to inconsistent stays with the Mets, Reds and Cardinals.

The comparisons to Brett began with Hurdle’s 19 homers and 89 RBIs in 1976, his first full pro season, then increased in ’77 when he jumped from A ball to AAA and hit  .328 with 16 homers before KC called him up in September. Sports Illustrated featured him on its cover a few months later, but he hit only .264, .236 and .240 the next three seasons before hitting 10 homers for the first time and batting .294 in 1980, his best full season with the Royals. KC traded him to the Reds after the next season; he last played in 1987.

But baseball blood coursed through his veins: Hurdle couldn’t leave the game and immediately landed a job managing the Mets’ High A club. He managed in the organization until he joined Colorado as hitting coach in 1994 and then replaced former Royal skipper Buddy Bell as manager in 2002.

Hurdle’s unenviable task was to turn around a lackluster team that had never in its 10-season history made the playoffs; it took five years, but Hurdle led the club in 2007 to 90 wins, 13 victories in their final 14 games, a tie-breaker victory over San Diego for the NL Wild Card, and three and four-game sweeps of the Phillies and Diamondbacks in the NLDS and NLCS to reach the World Series for the first time in club history. But the Red Sox turned the sweep on Hurdle and ended the Rockie’s amazing 21-1 stretch, winning the Series in four games.

Hurdle’s team dropped to 74-88 in 2008 and he was fired in late May 2009 when the Rockies were 10 games under .500 and 14 games behind the West Division-leading Dodgers.

Hurdle’s next managerial stop was Pittsburgh, a once-proud franchise that, when he took over in 2011, hadn’t enjoyed a postseason berth or a winning season since 1992. The Pirates steadily improved under Hurdle and, beginning in 2013, won three straight Wild Cards. But the Bucs couldn’t get past that point, suffered losings seasons in 2016 and ’17, won 82 games in ’18, then lost 92 last season.

Despite his club’s several 2019 losing streaks and on-field and clubhouse fights, Hurdle insisted a few days before the season ended that he’d be back in 2020, but was fired an hour before the club’s last game. His career managerial record is 1,269-1,345. He’s not slated to manage this season.

Kirk Gibson is best remembered for his days with the Tigers and Dodgers and the unforgettable, improbable home run he hit for the Dodgers to walk off Dennis Eckersley and the A’s in Game One of the 1988 World Series. But he was a Royal for a season, hitting 16 home runs with 55 RBIs in 1991. He hit 255 homers, stole 284 bases and won a Most Valuable Player Award and Silver Slugger in his 17-year career.

Gibson retired after the 1995 season, later coached for Detroit, then became Bob Melvin‘s bench coach with Arizona in 2007. Former Royal AJ Hinch retained Gibson when he replaced Melvin during the 2009 campaign; a 31-48 start the next season disenchanted the D-backs and they replaced Hinch with Gibson on July 2.

Gibson wasn’t much better (34-49) the rest of the season, but his highly competitive nature rubbed off on his players in 2011–with a full season to work with, Gibson led Arizona to the NL West title and a 94-68 record. But the Diamondbacks went 81-81 the next two campaigns and fired Gibson with three games left in the 2014 season. They were 63-96 at the time, and 353-375 overall under Gibson.

Gibson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2015 and now serves as a special assistant to Tigers’ general manager Al Avila.

Bud Black pitched in the majors for 15 years, including 6½ with the KC Royals, and has managed 12 seasons. His best year with the Royals was 1984 when he was 17-12 with a 3.12 ERA and eight complete games; he won 10 games for the ’85 World Series champions and 56 overall with KC before being traded to Cleveland in ’88. He also played for the Blue Jays and giants before returning to Cleveland for his final campaign in 1995.

The Padres gave Black his first managing job in 2007, then proved San Diego was a tolerant venue for a former player learning to manage. Black won 89 games in his rookie managerial season, then won just once more (90 in 2010) before the club fired him after 55 games in 2015. Black even survived the disastrous end of the 2010 campaign–the Padres blew a 6½ game NL West lead by losing 10 in a row and finishing 12-16 in September. (Curiously, Black was still named Manager of the Year).

Black resumed managing in 2017 with Colorado and won 87 games that season and 91 in 2018 before losing 91 in 2019. He’ll be at the helm when the 2020 campaign starts.

Four other former KC Royals have managed big league teams–Cookie Rojas with the Angels in 1988 (the Halos were 75-79 when they fired Rojas with eight games left); Buck Martinez (100-115 with Toronto in 2001-02; Bucky Dent (parts of two seasons with the Yankees) and Bobby Knoop (two games as interim manager of the Angels in 1994).

(The Mets hired Carlos Beltran to manage for 2020, but he resigned following his association with the Astros’ cheating scandal. And several ex-Royals have managed in the minors, including Frank White, Jamie Quirk, U L Washington, Ken Brett, Jerry Grote, Lee May, Buddy Biancalana, Carlos Febles, Dusty Wathan, Tony Pena Jr. and Brayan Pena).