PITTSBURGH (AP) -John Russell is taking one of the most challenging jobs in baseball as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team with 15 consecutive losing seasons.
Let go by the Pirates as their third-base coach two seasons ago, Russell was hired Monday to succeed Jim Tracy as Pittsburgh's manager. He becomes the team's fifth full-time manager since the Pirates last had a winning season in 1992, following Jim Leyland, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon and Tracy.
The 46-year-old Russell lost his previous job in Pittsburgh following McClendon's firing in September 2005. He managed the Phillies' Triple-A team the last two seasons, with the Ottawa Lynx going 55-88 last season.
Russell's hiring is the first major move by new Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who took over with 10 days left in the regular season. The Pirates spent nearly a month looking for Tracy's successor and had been the only remaining team in the majors without a manager following the Dodgers' hiring of Joe Torre.
New team president Frank Connelly, a former Major League Baseball lawyer who previously owned Phillies season tickets, also played a key role in Russell's hiring.
The Pirates settled on Russell on Saturday, a day after being told by Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell that he wasn't interested. The Pirates apparently delayed their search until they could talk to Farrell following the World Series. Farrell once succeeded Huntington as Cleveland's director of player development.
Russell's hiring is something of a surprise because he was let go as a coach by the same team that, after only a few weeks under new leadership, now has decided he's a better fit to be their manager than he was to be a coach. Russell was the Pirates' third-base coach and catching instructor from 2003-05.
At the time, Russell was unpopular among some Pirates fans because of the high number of runners that he waved home who were thrown out at the plate.
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 666-647 record in 10 seasons as a minor league manager.
After interviewing with Washington last year, he said his strength was developing players for the majors.
``I can get the players to get the best out of themselves,'' he said. ``I've really been able to get a team atmosphere.''
Russell became a Pirates coach after leading Edmonton to the Pacific Coast League title in 2002. He was chosen by Baseball America as the best managerial prospect in the minors after that season. The publication also chose him as the best Double-A managerial prospect in 1999.
Russell played for the Phillies, Braves and Rangers from 1984-93, hitting .225 with 34 homers and 129 RBIs in 448 games. A career backup, he never played more than 93 games in any season.
Tracy was fired with one year left on his contract after his teams lost 189 games in two seasons, going 68-94 last season. The Pirates have had 15 consecutive losing seasons, one short of the major league record, and have lost at least 94 games each of the last three seasons.

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