Former MLB player and manager Clint Hurdle rejoined the Colorado Rockies’ staff in 2021 as a Special Assistant to the General Manager. Hurdle led the Rockies to their first-ever National League pennant and a World Series appearance in 2007. He was also named NL Manager of the Year in 2013 after leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first winning season and playoff appearance in two decades.
Despite having opportunities out of high school that included an acceptance letter from Harvard and an offer to play both baseball and football (quarterback) at the University of Miami, Hurdle instead opted for pro ball after he was chosen ninth overall in the 1975 MLB draft. He would eventually play for the Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.
In addition to his new post with Colorado, Hurdle has been key to Bat Around, this issue’s Hot Corner feature. Inside Pitch caught up with Hurdle to discuss Bat Around, old dogs and new tricks:
Inside Pitch: How did the Bat Around conversation get going?
Clint Hurdle: The conversation started back in the early stages of COVID. There were a lot of guys—especially in my generation—complaining and whining about how the state of baseball was a mess and we finally got to the point where we all just said, ‘What can we do to help it?’ Ultimately, for me, it started with batting practice, which can get pretty mundane.
We wanted to make BP more fun. We wanted to teach kids to learn how to hit again, because they were all chasing exit velo, launch angle, power numbers because that’s what the game was encouraging them to do. Even for the big boys, they’re going to chase what they’re paid for, and that is mostly directly related to those numbers. Now you have all these people working with hitters trying to hit cage bombs at the top of the net. If you don’t quickly blossom into a real power hitter, that’s no fun to hit pop flies and strike out all the time.
IP: Are you into video games too or did you consider the “gamification” of BP later in the process?
CH: We've gone through a number of different stages where we were going to start with fantasy camps and corporate events, where everyone hits on the field and we measure the analytics off the bat as a fun way for people to get together. And we may revisit some of that in the future, but we landed on the fact that kids want now—they want something they can tap and swipe and can give them some positive feedback. And I still believe that kids want to compete. So the gamification part of Bat Around is great because we can run a kid though our games and without them even knowing it, we can develop and teach situational hitting, direct swing paths, how to hit the ball the other way, how to hit it hard, how to better compete under pressure.
And it really is pretty cool, when they see these visuals and graphics on the big screen and a kid sees it and says, “okay, I've hit two balls to right field; it wants me to hit to left,” and you can see their brain starts working. “What do I have to do to get those points that are in left field? What do I have to do to get those points that are in center field? What do I have to do to move this runner to third?”
We've got defensive AI out there to let them know that sometimes you hit it well and you’re still out. It’s baseball. Get up and get back out there.
IP: Have you always been a fan of the tech and the analytics in baseball or have you come around more recently?
CH: I do think there are a lot of valuable tools out there. It was one of the things you definitely started to notice, when the game started to shift more towards analytics, towards technology. I started to see that my last couple years with the Rockies, and for sure when I went to Pittsburgh. I was fortunate to be with a very creative group of people with the Pirates: Neal Huntington, Dan Fox and Mike Fitzgerald. We all collaborated to set up our programming. And you realize pretty quickly that the game is going to evolve either way, with or without you, regardless of whether you like it or not. So I knew I needed to pay attention, I needed to learn, to re-learn, to really lean in.
IP: Did you have a natural inclination to resist?
CH: Sure. It's a human nature thing. When something’s broke, we overcorrect. And “if it ain’t broke…” we don’t even consider fixing it. If you ask me, I think technology determined that the game was broken and our industry overcorrected. We became too reliant on the analytics and the three true outcomes with strikeout, homer, walk, and we really took away the action and the pace of the game. Baseball was really frozen in some areas.
I didn’t hear evaluators talk about a “feel” to hit or pitch anymore. We started pushing a lot of kids on the mound who were rock throwers—all effort and no feel, wild pitches and passed balls galore. The art of hitting was pushed aside for slug, slug, slug. The game was all out of whack. I love the way the game is trending now. It’s headed in a much better direction. And you look at the kid that’s leading baseball in hitting right now, Luis Arraez. I really am thankful for him because he’s showing everybody that there is another way to do it and it’s real.
IP: Why did it take so long for the game to correct course?
CH: Well, the biggest argument—and I don't want to get too philosophical— is that people don’t like change, especially the older you get. You know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know. And unfortunately for a lot of guys of my generation, learning something new wasn’t at the top of the list, especially once it got more mathematical and analytical and less about using your eyes, your gut, your heart.
And I’ve shared this so many times, but this old-school versus new-school thing needs to be dropped. It’s kind of like what’s going on in society—everyone take a side, you’re right, and they’re wrong. Stop it. Let’s all just be in school. What can we learn? What can we teach each other?
I’ve got buddies that can’t get back into the game because they won’t allow themselves to get back in; they can’t see the other side of it. I’m going to tell you this truthfully, now that I’m back with the Rockies. The things we can pull from analytics are really helpful! I’ll watch something with my eyes and I’ll think this and I’ll go back and run the numbers and go, “Oh my God. That’s not what happened at all. I’m so far off the truth here.” But back in the day, you know I would have been preaching “my truth” and screwing a guy all up, taking them down the wrong road.