In March, 1978, Clint Hurdle made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine as baseball’s next phenom (see here). He was one of the most hyped rookie phenoms of the decade. Hurdle debuted with the Royals as a 19-year-old in 1977, batting .308 in 28 plate appearances, and homering in his second big league at bat. As a rookie in 1978, he hit .264 with seven homers in 133 games, with a 108 OPS+. Slumping in 1979 to .240 in 59 games, Hurdle was sent back to AAA, hitting .234 in 68 games. Returning to the majors in a full-time role in 1980, Hurdle batted .294 with ten homers in 130 games and an .807 OPS and a 120 OPS+ as a 22-year-old. Hurdle batted .417 in 1980 World Series for the Royals in four games. Hurdle was hurt again in 1981, but hit well in only 28 games, batting .329 with four homers, a .980 OPS and a 183 OPS+.
I don’t know what the Royals knew at the time, but they decided to deal Hurdle. Keeping in mind that at age 22 Hurdle had an .807 OPS and a 120 OPS+. Jay Bruce, the Reds current phenom outfielder, at age 22, batted .223 with a .773 OPS (101 OPS+). Hurdle was considered one of the absolute best prospects in baseball, with Royals Hall of Famer George Brett saying that Hurdle was one of the best minor league hitters he had ever seen in the Royals organization.
The Royals dealt him to the Reds for reliever Scott Brown. Brown had his first major league cup of coffee in 1981, going 1-0 in 10 games with a 2.77 ERA. in 13 innings, he had allowed 16 hits and walked only one with no home runs allowed at age 24. He had become a closer for the Reds AAA team in 1981, going 6-5 with a 2.28 ERA and 13 saves in 51 games, striking out 86 in 87 innings.
Meanwhile, free agency, or the fear of free agency, was decimating the Reds. The Reds traded Ken Griffey to the Yankees in November, 1981, granted free agency to Dave Collins about a week later (he signed with the Yankees), and traded George Foster to the other New York team (the Mets). The Reds did receive an aging Cesar Cedeno from the Astros, but were essentially counting on Hurdle, Cedeno, and youngsters Eddie Milner, Duane Walker, and Paul Householder to carry the outfield in 1982. About the nicest thing anyone can say is that it didn’t work for none of them hit and Hurdle suffered a serious back injury. For the first and only time in their history, the Reds lost 100 or more games (101).
It’s not really fair to say none of them hit. Cedeno did have a league average season, hitting .289 with eight homers and a 110 OPS+, but it wasn’t the “next Willie Mays” Cesar Cedeno of his youth. Walker and Milner weren’t really “young” (25, 26, respectively), and Householder didn’t hit. Hurdle, a key to the Reds hitting attack, never produced for the Reds, batting .206 in 19 games with one rbi and one double. After his back injury, he was never the same and the Reds sent him to AAA where he hit .245 in 88 games before the Reds released him at season’s end. He played part-time for a couple of teams for a few more years before retiring after the 1987 season. In ten major league seasons, Hurdle played 515 games (263 of them in 1978 and 1980, and 252 in the other eight seasons), batting .259 with 32 career home runs.
Brown didn’t fare much better with the Royals. He never pitched in the majors for them and only pitched 14 minor league games (24 2/3 innings) with a 8.39 ERA before ending his career.
Hurdle has been a successful major league manager, having managed the Colorado Rockies for eight seasons with a 534-625 record and a National League pennant in 2007. He’s now the manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Much has been written about Hurdle. For some online resources check out here and here for a health battle his daughter is fighting.