Many of us spend our lives trying to live down what we did as 12-year-olds. Then again, most of us didn't enter our adolescent years as minor national heroes.
Until Oct. 23, when the Pirates named him their new manager, Lloyd McClendon was best known for something he did nearly 30 years ago. "Every August somebody wants to talk about Legendary Lloyd," says McClendon, 41, who earned that nickname when he homered on all five swings he took during the 1971 Little League World Series. (He was intentionally walked in his five other plate appearances.) His team from Gary, Ind., the first all-black squad to qualify for the Series, lost to Taiwan in the championship game. "It's like I was in a fantasy world," he says, "and people still want to talk about it 30 years later."
McClendon's relative anonymity in the big leagues—he was the Pirates' hitting coach for the last four seasons—made him a fitting choice as manager in what has been a banner off-season for first chances. Six new skippers (the Arizona Diamondbacks' Bob Brenly, the Philadelphia Phillies' Larry Bowa, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Jim Tracy, the Toronto Blue Jays' Buck Martinez, the Cincinnati Reds' Bob Boone and McClendon) have been hired since the season ended. Bowa (who managed the San Diego Padres to an 81-127 record in 1987 and '88) and Boone (who guided the Kansas City Royals to a 181-206 mark from 1995 to '97) are the only ones with any experience running major league teams. Brenly and Martinez have never managed at any professional level. The grand sum of McClendon's managing experience? Two years in the Arizona and California fall instructional leagues.
So much for the proverbial coaching carousel. "I think organizations are looking for young, dynamic men who can lead," says McClendon. "They're getting away from conventional types of managers. Players at the major league level are younger and younger, and teams need young men who can relate to them."
Even so, Pittsburgh, coming off its eighth consecutive losing season and getting ready to move into spanking new PNC Park, could have filled its opening with a more recognizable name to drum up fan interest. "We probably went around the house to get in the front door," says Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay, who along with team owner Kevin McClatchy interviewed 10 candidates for the job. Among the interviewees were Tracy, former Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter, Oakland A's bench coach Ken Macha and St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach Mike Easier. "We felt Lloyd was the best one," says Bonifay. "We wanted someone who can communicate and motivate our players, someone who knows what it's like to be a player."
An aspiring manager since his playing days (he retired in 1995), McClendon was nonetheless reluctant to throw his hat into the ring. His predecessor, Gene Lamont, spent the year as a virtual lame duck and, as expected, was axed as soon as the season ended. Out of loyalty to Lamont, McClendon never expressed interest in the job. That changed in mid-September, when, in a meeting in the visiting manager's office in Houston, Lamont encouraged McClendon to pursue the position. Within a week he sat down for an interview with Bonifay.
"The only thing I asked was that the playing field be even," says McClendon. "Judge me on who I am and what I have to say. I never doubted that if all those things were even, I'd come out on top."
McClendon was counting on his knowledge of the team and its players being an advantage, and it was. With him as hitting coach, the Pirates have raised their team average and runs total each of the last two years. Several players, including catcher Jason Kendall, leftfielder Brian Giles and first baseman Kevin Young, approached Bonifay on their own as the season wound down and endorsed McClendon. Kendall, a free agent after next season who's talking to the team about an extension, said McClendon's hiring would have a "very positive impact on whether I stay in Pittsburgh."
"If we don't do things the way Mac wants them done, he'll step in and make sure they get done," says Young. "With him as hitting coach, we worked on finding my strength and what works for me. As manager he'll have the flexibility to find ways to get the same kinds of results out of different types of players. Not every player is the same, and he realizes that."
McClendon learned that lesson in his own eight-year career, during which he played for four organizations and three major league managers. The fourth youngest in a family of 13 children, he was born and reared in Gary. (He still spends the off-season in nearby Merrillville, with his wife, Ingrid, and their two children, Schenell, 17, and Bo, 13.) After his Little League heroics McClendon had an all-state baseball career at Roosevelt High and went to Valparaiso on a baseball scholarship. The New York Mets drafted him following his junior year, and he played three seasons with the Mets organization before they dealt him to Cincinnati as part of the Tom Seaver deal. After four years with the Reds and the Chicago Cubs he landed in Pittsburgh in 1990, where he was a backup outfielder during the Pirates' run of three consecutive division titles, from 1990 to '92. He's one of the few remaining links to the franchise's most recent heyday.