PITTSBURGH -- John Russell is a humble guy who spent much of
his career in the minors. He lacks a marquee name or a big-time
resume, and he was fired as a coach two years ago by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Is this really the best person that very same Pittsburgh team
could find to become its new manager -- someone the club's previous
leadership let go?
Pirates president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal
Huntington insisted Monday that's exactly why they hired Russell,
who has managed at every level of baseball except the majors.
Specifically, because he is the best man for a job many think is
next to impossible: remaking the Pirates into consistent winners
again even though they're coming off 15 consecutive losing seasons.
"I know the system we have will work," said the 46-year-old
Russell, known in the minors for getting the most from his teams.
"There are a lot of areas in which we can improve, but we have the
pieces here to win games. And we're here to win."
As for his previous firing by the Pirates, he said: "Two years
ago was two years ago. It's a different time. What happened back
then was back then."
Russell promises no team in the majors will work harder than
his, and everyone in uniform will be accountable on a daily basis,
from the manager on down. The idea is to stretch the Pirates'
arguably thin talent to the maximum and squeeze out victories any
Or, exactly what Coonelly and Huntington wanted to hear during a
long managerial search that began Oct. 5, when Jim Tracy was fired
after two seasons and 189 losses. Russell was hired exactly a month
"It's being a tireless instructor, it's being a tireless
communicator," Huntington said, explaining Russell's qualities.
"It's instilling pride and expecting things to be done the right
way. It's holding the staff accountable and the players
The Pirates haven't won more than 79 games since 1992, yet
Russell suggested he's tired of hearing why Pittsburgh can't win.
No doubt he heard plenty of such talk as the Pirates' third base
coach from 2003-05 under former manager Lloyd McClendon.
"I think we have a great core of players right now," Russell
said. "We have the pieces to win now. It's just a matter of
getting the passion, the accountability, the attention to detail.
That's what works. My role and the staff's role is going to be huge
and we're going to be diligent, but I like what we have."
Russell pointed to young starting pitchers such as Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Matt Capps and Zach Duke, good
speed and defense, and proven hitters such as Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez as a core to build around.
Russell managed the Phillies' Triple-A team the past two
seasons, guiding the Ottawa Lynx to a 55-88 record this year. The
year before, he was chosen manager of the year in the International
League after Scranton/Wilkes-Barre went 84-58. He has managed at
every level of the minors over 10 years, in the Arizona Fall League
and the Venezuelan winter league.
"We're here to win games," he said several times during his
introductory news conference. "When I get here at noon, 12:30
every day, we'll start to prepare to do everything we can to win
that game that night."
Russell had not worked previously with Huntington, a former
Cleveland Indians executive, or Coonelly, a former Major League
Baseball labor lawyer, but he said his vision and theirs quickly
"I felt like I was talking through them," Russell said. "All
the things they're looking for are what I'm looking for. I know
what we've got will work."
Russell's hiring is the first major move by Huntington, who took
over with 10 days left in the regular season. The search lasted
longer than most because Huntington wanted to talk to candidates
involved in the postseason.
But while Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said Friday he
turned down a chance to interview,Coonelly insisted he wanted a
manager who has written out a lineup card -- something Farrell has
"I think it's very important that John has managed, and has
managed for a long time," Coonelly said.
The Pirates are also believed to have talked with Triple-A
Indianapolis manager Trent Jewett, plus Chicago White Sox bench
coach Joey Cora and Indians third base coach Joel Skinner.
Russell, a former major league catcher who caught one of Nolan
Ryan's no-hitters, spent eight years as a Minnesota Twins minor
league manager. He interviewed with the Phillies for their
manager's job following the 2004 season and with the Nationals
after last season. He has a 666-667 record in the minors.
He was chosen by Baseball America as the minors' best managerial
prospect after the 2002 season with Triple-A Edmonton. The
publication also chose him as the best Double-A managerial prospect