With the Rockies just two wins away from their first NL flag, most of you will recall that last winter was filled with Todd Helton trade rumors, and last spring was abuzz with cries of astonishment over Dan O’Dowd and Clint Hurdle being signed to contract extensions. But if you want to go back a bit further in the time machine, the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger can remember an era when Hurdle was considered the game’s top prospect (link swiped from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)

For the longest time, the baseball world thought Hurdle was born to be a superstar player, not manager.

He was 6-feet-3 with a Florida tan, cowboy looks and a homecoming king way about him. A good enough athlete that Miami signed him to compete with Jim Kelly at quarterback. Sure enough in himself that as a high school senior he used a postseason banquet to crush his school™s fans for being too tough on the coaching staff.

Advanced enough in his talents that Sports Illustrated put him on the cover in 1978, age 20, under the headline œThis Year™s Phenom. Hurdle hit 32 home runs in parts of 10 seasons, and ever since, each time a highly-hyped prospect struggles, somebody somewhere wonders, Is this the next Clint Hurdle?

Clint Hurdle made his major-league debut on Sept. 18, 1977, with what some still say is the greatest Royals team of all-time. His second at-bat? Home run into the fountains at Royals Stadium.

His third big-league game he hit cleanup, and his second career home run bounced off a sign in the right-field fountains, went over the fence and out of the ballpark. The kid was a hitting savant, the reason the Royals felt comfortable trading John Mayberry ” even though Hurdle had never played first base in his life.

Whitey Herzog was the manager, and when he saw the imposing new prospect, thought he had the next great slugger. But Hurdle had always been more of a line-drive hitter, doubles in the gaps, and a tug-of-war developed between Herzog and Charley Lau ” who saw more George Brett than Reggie Jackson.

By the end, Hurdle was a confused and former phenom, and nobody was able to figure out where all that raw talent went. The Royals traded him after four seasons, and he changed teams three more times in parts of 10 seasons, reinventing himself as a catcher in the minor leagues along the way.

The next great thing was done at 29, with a .259 batting average in 515 career games.