Athletics manager Bob Melvin received a text from former MLB skipper Clint Hurdle saying, "You're going to love these guys." The guys he was referring to were Starling Marte and Josh Harrison, who Oakland acquired this year before the trade deadline.
That love quickly became apparent.
Marte, in particular, made himself one of the keys to the A’s success the minute he was brought over from the Miami Marlins on July 28.
But the 2016 All-Star outfielder had a lot to learn during his younger days. Both on, and off the field.
“We went through some of the hardest times,” Hurdle told NBC Sports California. “The biggest one being the PED suspension.”
Marte was suspended for 80 games in April of 2017 after violating the league’s joint drug prevention program, when he tested positive for Nandrolone.
In May of 2020, while he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Marte’s wife, Noelia, died suddenly of a heart attack while she was waiting to undergo surgery on a broken ankle. Marte contemplated retirement.
Even though Hurdle no longer was his manager, they kept in close touch.
“His wife passing after he left us -- I still stay in touch with Starling to this day, on occasion,” Hurdle said. “So it was just part of mentoring, getting him in front of the right, older players. Because he has a unique personality.” Yeah. It's not cocky .. he's very confident. He's actually very humble. He's also very funny.”
One of the older players Marte had to play under was five-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen.
“Yeah, he played under the shadow of McCutchen. Until his talent developed such that he didn't need to be in anybody's shadow. I don't mean that in a bad way, and he turned into a vocal left fielder, which isn't an easy thing to do. But he's, he's always been willing to learn, he's always been willing to pay attention. And some things he's had to learn the hard way. And some of the best lessons in life, if they’ve learned the hard way, they turn out to be beneficial for everybody that you run into after that.”
Marte recently referred to Hurdle as a father figure to him.
“You know, he showed me how to have confidence in my game and just kind of how to be an all-around athlete in this game of baseball. It’s very hard,” Marte told reporters after Saturday’s 8-2 loss to the Texas Rangers. “Man, he’s like a hero to me and he told me to just go out there and have fun and play hard every day. I’m very grateful for that man.”
Hurdle noticed the growth. He noticed the man Marte has become - not just the baseball player in between the foul lines.
“I think he's comfortable in his own skin now," Hurdle said. "Yeah. You know, I can't imagine what it was like to go through, you know, having children losing a wife. That's a tragic experience. And he's still been able to find a way to keep things in perspective. Because he loves his kids. As kids. He's got some family support. And he's learned over time that just because there's a lot of people around you, doesn't mean they all have your best interests.
Melvin was very vocal about giving Marte the green light when it came to stealing bases.
Marte's 45 stolen bags lead MLB and he has the third-highest single-season stolen base success rate (93.8 percent) with a minimum of 40 stolen base attempts … ever. Hurdle too gave Marte the ultra go-ahead.
“Absolutely,” Hurdle said. “Unfortunately, we had to go through some growing pains with him. He has become an elite base stealer. Everybody knows in the park, when he’s on base, he’s going to go.”
Hurdle said there was a time when Marte was a student of the base-stealing lessons. He needed to learn the art of it. How to learn about reads and tells from the pitcher and paying attention to the catcher.
“Initially he wasn’t that adept at stealing third,” Hurdle said.
That’s obviously changed.
Marte's teammate Josh Harrison has been an exceptional contribution to the A’s as well.
The A's lost Ramón Laureano to a season-ending suspension in early August after he violated MLB’s drug prevention program and tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. While Marte replaced him in center field, Harrison’s versatility allowed the team to utilize him as they saw fit.
Upon arrival, Harrison said he’s asked a lot about the position he favors, or thrives most in, and he said typically, he likes to play at second base.
“I think Josh is probably revisited a lot more of the versatility aspects lately,” Hurdle said. “He's regained success. He's regained track as an offensive game. His defensive game, I think, is a mindset number one, but I absolutely can understand when players, they get to the point where they'd like to just be in one spot. And then some of them do learn over the long haul, that they're better served moving around. They're serving the team, that actually works better for them.”
That was the goal from the beginning. Harrison wanted to play wherever he would be successful, but more importantly, where that success could benefit the A’s.
Hurdle said Harrison’s versatility even resulted in Harrison pitching to one batter in Colorado.
“I said, ‘It's the first time I've ever had a guy throw uphill,” Hurdle laughed. “You know, he just laughs he's got a million-dollar smile.”
The two also transitioned beautifully in the clubhouse. They didn’t skip a beat, which was something Hurdle wasn’t the least surprised about.
“I've seen how they react to adversity,” Hurdle said. “They are both super confident. And I mean that in a glowing term. They both have shown the ability to have short memories when things don't go well. They're real.”
Harrison said the A’s made it so easy to join the team -- there appeared to be no “new kid in school” attitude when he put on the green and gold.
“But it's been very rewarding to watch them from afar," Hurdle said. "Continue to grow and use the skills -- some of the skills they were blessed with and some of the skills that they have, some of the raw talent they've turned into skills, because they both will work extremely hard.”
Hurdle said one thing he always tells his players is along their career, and in life, they will be a former player longer than a player themselves. That's the impact he made on Harrison and Marte -- an impact you easily could see.
"I just thought that one of my one of the abilities I needed to share with others was to put them in a position to win games, but to win in life than to know that again, the life is good, because it lasts way longer than your career does. And you have a chance to impact that as well."