Bucs exercise Russell's option for 2010
Skipper entering his second season at helm in Pittsburgh
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates announced on Saturday that manager John Russell's contract option for 2010 has been exercised, effectively rewarding the 48-year-old manager for the steps forward that the club made in '08.
"It's a nice feeling," Russell said of the extension after wrapping up Saturday's workouts at Pirate City. "I appreciate being a part of [this change] and the faith [general manager] Neal [Huntington] has in me and what we are doing as a group. I truly believe that if I do what I'm supposed to do and Neal and I continue to work together that we are going to have a very long relationship in Pittsburgh, and there are going to be some great things that happen."
Russell is coming off his first season at the helm in Pittsburgh, which also marked his first season as a Major League manager. He replaced outgoing manager Jim Tracy in November 2007 and became the 38th manager in the organization's history after having spent 10 years as a Minor League manager.
Though improvements weren't noted in the Pirates' record (67-95) last season, management lauded the way players responded to Russell throughout the trying year. Players and management have spoken to the increased accountability Russell instilled, his thorough preparation and his propensity for paying attention to detail. And internally, many seem to feel that the change of culture that Russell preached as a necessity when he arrived is happening.
He continues to accomplish all of this, too, without the need to be excessively fiery or vocal in the public eye.
"I think the thing that gets misread on JR a lot is his passion for the game and doing things the right way," Huntington said. "He's not going to yell and scream and make a show. It's not his way. But at the same time, don't misread that he lets things slide, because he doesn't. He's the first to correct things. He does it in a way that he earns the trust and respect of those players. He doesn't blow people up publically. He doesn't look to show anybody up.
"We felt in our environment that we needed someone who was going to help and nurture this team and who could push and challenge these players to get better," Huntington added. "But we did want someone who can stay even-keeled, that cannot get too high and does not get too low."
There is something to be said about the continuity that this announcement offers the Pirates as well. After playing with just two managers from 1977-96, the Pirates have had four in the past 12 seasons. That number can be bumped to five if Pete Mackanin, who served as interm manager for 26 games in 2005, is included in the count.
There are indications, too, that the coaching staffs, both at the Major League and Minor League levels, are finding some stability as well. After significant turnover on the Minor League side this offseason, both Russell and Huntington have already commented about the exceptional teachers that have been brought in as replacements.
The same, of course, can be said about Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and first base coach Perry Hill -- both offseason additions -- who have earned excessive praise so far in Spring Training.
"You'd like to be a stable organization," Russell said. "We're looking forward to that. We're trying to tie up some of the core players that we have. That's building a stable environment. We're excited about the players, but we'd like to stabilize the whole system so we can move forward as a group. That goes a long way."
Having established his philosophies in the clubhouse, Russell now expects those changes to translate into palpable on-field improvements beginning this season. And now he knows that he will be given at least two more seasons to try and lead that turnaround.
"The hard work is starting to pay off," Russell said. "You see the commitment from the front office in where we are going, the help I get from our staff and the way the players react to what we are trying to do. I can't say enough about what the organization has done and the direction we are headed. Things are really exciting around Pittsburgh now."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.