Hurdle, Banister share bond beyond baseball
Skippers have remained close friends since working together in 2011 for Bucs
CHICAGO -- Jeff Banister's Rangers arrived in Chicago on Friday to play the White Sox, following the Pirates into U.S. Cellular Field. That gave Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle a chance to play out one of baseball's oldest traditions, leaving something in the desk in the visiting manager's office for the next occupant to find.
Banister proudly displayed a note from Hurdle before Friday night's game, when his bedraggled Rangers didn't arrive at their Chicago hotel until 7:15 a.m. after traveling from Los Angeles, where they suffered a balk-off loss Thursday night.
Was that all Hurdle left?
"No, there were some other things," said Banister, who kept the other items to himself. "He's my brother. He left a few things."
Managers can lead lonely lives. They deal with long hours, difficult travel, media obligations and daily communication with their general managers and others in the team's front office, all while coping with the stress of winning and losing in a public way.
It helps to have allies, which Hurdle and Banister have been since 2011, when Hurdle was hired to manage the Pirates. They didn't know each other before that, in large part because Hurdle has spent most of his career in the Major Leagues while Banister played, coached and managed in the Minor Leagues.
"Once I interviewed [Banister] for the bench coach position, I knew after the meeting was over, he was the right guy for this organization to be the bench coach," Hurdle said. "From that point, we needed to get to know each other really well, so we invested in each other and the team.
"Midway through the second year, I told him, 'This winter, my investment is going to be in helping get you get ready to manage a big league club.' That would have been in '13. Not a doubt in my mind that he'd be ready if an opportunity came. I was surprised he didn't get interviewed after the '13 season."
Hurdle managed the Rockies when they went to the World Series in 2007, but he was dismissed after an 18-28 start in 2009. He spent 2010 as a hitting coach with the Rangers, developing ties to Texas GM Jon Daniels. Hurdle's recommendation of Banister carried a lot of weight when the Rangers were looking to hire a manager to replace Ron Washington.
Banister admits he leaned heavily on Hurdle as he prepared for this season.
"During the offseason, there was a lot of contact from myself to him -- advice, what ifs," Banister said.
When Spring Training rolled around, Hurdle told Banister he was ready for his new role.
"[Hurdle] told me, 'Look, you're going to have to figure out how your feet walk on the ground on your own and kind of make your own way," Banister said.
They stopped talking regularly, but still exchanged e-mails and texts regularly. That became unsatisfying for Hurdle, so when June rolled around, he reached out with a call.
"We send e-mails, but I like talking to the guy," Hurdle said. "We laugh together. You can't laugh on a text or an e-mail."
Hurdle knew Banister would be swamped early in the season, and that held true. The rookie manager's time was precious, as the Rangers lost ace Yu Darvish to a right elbow injury in Spring Training and constantly juggled their roster through a 15-22 start that suggested they might be headed for another 95-loss season.
But Texas hit its stride in late May, led by Prince Fielder and getting contributions up and down the roster, and is now 37-33 -- only 3 1/2 games out of the American League West lead.
"From a point of leadership, there's nothing better you can give your people than your time," Hurdle said. "That's the challenge. The greatest reward we can give anybody is our time, but you have to figure out how much time you have to give. I think [Banister is] getting a much better feel for that now."
Banister said the best thing about the recent conversation with Hurdle was that they talked about things beyond the Pirates and Rangers.
"We had a great talk," Banister said. "We got a chance to talk about some things other than baseball, which was really cool. We set up a pact, if you will, to continue to talk about once every week, every 10 days or so, so we can help each other maintain that balance."
Hurdle's Pirates are one of baseball's best teams. They entered the week having gone 21-8 since May 20, and Banister is happy for them.
Hurdle knows all about Andrew McCutchen's slow start and A.J. Burnett's sub-2 ERA, because he watches his old team on television whenever he can.
"It still runs deep for me," Banister said about feelings for the Pirates. "You can't just turn it off. I helped grow some of those guys up over there.''
Those feelings don't stop with the players, either. The bond with Hurdle is the deepest of all.