Cubs' Joe Maddon, Pirates' Clint Hurdle fired on final day of season
Oakland's Bob Melvin now the longest-tenured bench boss in majors
From the moment Joe Maddon joined the Chicago Cubs, taking the reins in a Wrigleyville bar five years ago, he talked about winning.
He was the right manager at the right time for a franchise that had experienced mostly terrible timing for more than a century. Right until his time in Chicago ran out.
The Cubs will have a new manager next season after Maddon and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced Sunday it was time for a change after three years of declining results since the franchise's historic World Series championship in 2016.
The situation was finalized when Maddon and Epstein met in Epstein's hotel room after Saturday's 8-6 victory at St. Louis, sharing some wine and reminiscing about their wildly successful partnership.
Maddon's contract expires after Sunday's season finale against the Cardinals.
"Change can help you grow," Epstein said. "And Joe said this change is going to help him grow and I feel it's going to help the Cubs grow, too."
A Cub forever
The move begins what could be an active off-season for the Cubs, and the 65-year-old Maddon once again becomes one of baseball's top free agents.
"I want to continue to do this, whatever's next out there, I want to be able to be on top of that too," said Maddon, who has used everything from petting zoos to T-shirts with slogans like "Embrace The Target" and "Do Simple Better" to help his teams over the years.
"All of it's been positive, man, and it's been interesting, entertaining and quite frankly for this time of year, feeling pretty good, feeling pretty eager about everything, so it's been a good year."
While Maddon is out after five seasons, he is tied to Chicago forever after managing the Cubs to the 2016 championship for the franchise's first title in 108 years.
Chicago also made it to the NL Championship Series in 2015 and 2017, but it lost in the wild-card round last October and tumbled out of the playoff race altogether this year. Weighed down by a puzzling discrepancy between their 51 wins at Wrigley Field and 33 road victories before the finale, the Cubs finished third in the NL Central.
"You look at the home and road splits and what we've done on the road ... I mean these are like some really crazy, hard-to-wrap-your-mind-around things," Maddon said this month. "I don't know if somebody's going to dig deeply enough to really figure it out, but it's really, just to have your mind try to extrapolate what is going on here, it's hard to pinpoint anything."
The Cubs were in position to make the playoffs for much of this season. They had a half-game lead in the NL Central on Aug. 22. They had control of an NL wild card into September.
But a nine-game slide, including five consecutive one-run losses for the first time since 1915, wiped out their post-season chances and sealed Maddon's fate.
Pirates fire Hurdle after 2nd half collapse
Clint Hurdle's booming voice and unrelenting optimism helped shake the Pittsburgh Pirates out of two decades of misery. His charisma gave the moribund franchise an identity, one that reconnected the franchise with a fan base worn down by years of losing.
Yet over the years, as the core that led the team to three straight playoff berths from 2013-15 vanished with trades, retirement and the pursuit of financial riches elsewhere, that optimism started to fly in the face of reality. Pittsburgh fell off the pace after winning 98 games in 2015, and as players shuffled in and out, the giddiness of those three intoxicating years of contention faded.
When Hurdle arrived for work on Sunday for Pittsburgh's regular season finale against Cincinnati, the Pirates were assured of their worst record since 2011, his first season on the job. By the time Trevor Williams threw the first pitch to Jose Peraza, Hurdle already was headed home, his nine seasons in Pittsburgh over following a stunning second-half collapse marred by embarrassing off-the-field issues that indicated a clubhouse in disarray.
Calling it "an extremely difficult decision," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington fired Hurdle in the final hours of a disappointing year, putting an abrupt end to a partnership that guided Pittsburgh back to relevance. Huntington stressed the club wasn't making Hurdle a scapegoat for failings that stretched far beyond the manager's reach. The Pirates entered Sunday 69-92, including 25-47 since the All-Star break.
"There is no one thing that led us to this decision," Huntington said. "It's easily summed in new voice, new leadership, new direction in the clubhouse but I'm not saying it's his fault. I'm sitting here wearing it. We are wearing it as an organization, and we're going to work our tails off to never be in this spot again."
Hurdle went 735-720 in Pittsburgh, the fourth-winningest manager in the franchise's 132-year history in the National League. He took over a team coming off a 105-loss season the year before his arrival and with the help of a group that included star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, orchestrated a revival that saw Pittsburgh become contenders in the NL Central.
Yet the Pirates never made it past the Division Series over the course of three consecutive playoff appearances, The team slid back to mediocrity as A.J. Burnett retired in 2015, McCutchen and pitcher Gerrit Cole were traded in January 2018, and catcher Russell Martin and pitcher J.A. Happ both landed lucrative deals as free agents.
Pittsburgh averaged just 76 victories over Hurdle's final four seasons. He leaves with two years remaining on a contract extension he signed in 2017.
Bench coach Tom Prince filled in for Hurdle as manager after Hurdle declined the option of working one last day. Huntington said he will explore both internal and external options.
Hurdle is the fifth departing major league manager. San Francisco's Bruce Bochy and Kansas City's Ned Yost announced their retirements, San Diego's Andy Green was fired on Sept. 21, and the Cubs' Joe Maddon and Chicago announced Sunday he will not return.
Oakland's Bob Melvin, hired in June 2011, became the longest-tenured manager in the major leagues.