Hurdle no stranger to Fall Classic fate
Skipper recalls 'destiny-laced' Phils from 1980 World Series
DENVER -- Rockies manager Clint Hurdle understands that any player has the ability to get hot during the World Series.
Twenty-seven years ago, Hurdle did just that.
Hurdle was a platoon player on the 1980 Royals who took advantage of the chance to start four games by going 5-for-12 (.417) with a run scored. Two walks gave him a .500 on-base percentage.
The Phillies won the World Series that year, four games to two. But Hurdle, who will manage the National League champion Rockies in the 2007 Fall Classic against either the Indians or the Red Sox, proved that a little confidence goes a long way at the most important time of the baseball year.
Hurdle received the most playing time of his career, 130 games, that season. The Royals signed Jose Cardenal late in the year, and manager Jim Frey used him in a platoon with the left-handed-hitting Hurdle in right field. In the Series, Hurdle didn't start the two games against Phillies Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
Despite sharing the position -- and playing sparingly in the American League Championship Series because the Yankees went with left-handed starters -- Hurdle managed to go into the World Series sharp and confident.
"I went into it thinking, 'Wouldn't this be a great time to be hot?'" Hurdle recalled. "But then, there was that little man on my shoulder saying, 'Wouldn't this be a bad time not to be hot?' But I continued to have confidence in myself and in my ability.
"That's something that I remember now, and it's something I used as a hitting coach and use as a manager. Your confidence level has to be there. If you don't have confidence in yourself, how can you expect for other people to have confidence in you."
Hurdle's first hit, off Bob Walk in the top of the third inning of Game 1, was memorable, not just to him. It turned out to be a key play in the 7-6 Phillies victory at Veterans Stadium.
"I hit a bullet to left field, and Darrell Porter was on second base," Hurdle said. "I was running, so I didn't know it at the time, but I saw later that he froze when the ball came off the bat. He tried to score, but he really didn't have a chance. Lonnie Smith's throw got there so far ahead of him he didn't even have the opportunity to slide.
"I had so much adrenaline. It was my first World Series. To go up there and whack a ball to left field to get rolling, that was exciting."
It was a time of fun around the clubhouse and dedication to baseball for Hurdle.
"That's exactly how it was when I look back on it," Hurdle said. "At the time I was married, she's now my ex-wife. We had friends and family around. My in-laws were around. I tried to make time for people, acknowledge their support and presence. But for me, the opportunity to win the World Series was my strongest focus. My focus was 90 percent on that. It was like I was in a vacuum.
"It was a great clubhouse atmosphere. We had great character in the clubhouse. It was an older team, and that made it special. It was like sitting around the campfire, spinning yarns."
Hurdle, who had a double and a stolen base in the Series, was one of several Royals that put up strong numbers. Amos Otis hit .478 with three home runs and seven RBIs. Willie Mays Aikens contributed a .400 average and six walks. George Brett and Hal McRae each hit .375.
Still, the Phillies prevailed.
It was rare that season that the Royals would blow a late lead, but they watched the Phillies come from behind in three of their wins.
The Phils' lineup was strong and experienced. There were veteran pitchers such as Carlton, fellow starters Larry Christenson and Dick Ruthven and closer Tug McGraw. But they also had 21-year-old Marty Bystrom and the 23-year-old Walk making starts in the Fall Classic. Hurdle said the Phillies were "destiny-laced."
A team with a habit of winning close games, that trusted a pair of rookie starting pitchers? Aren't the Rockies on a late-season run of their own, and haven't they used Ubaldo Jimenez, 23, and Franklin Morales, 21, as starters in key games?
And, of course, these Rockies have been christened a team of destiny. A Thursday afternoon Google of "Rockies" and "destiny" came back with 196,000 total hits.
Whether there are similarities between this year's Rockies and the Phillies that spoiled the Royals' World Series can certainly be debated. But Hurdle rejects that destiny is the reason any team, then or now, wins the title.
"Throughout this run, we've heard a lot of things from all over, be it in the media or in our clubhouse, trying to explain it," Hurdle said. "But the thing that I don't lose sight of is anytime a team gets to the World Series, it has more to do with a team playing good baseball than anything."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.