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 PITTSBURGH (AP) -John Russell lacks an instantly recognizable name, a big reputation or much of an identity among Pittsburgh Pirates fans despite once being the team's third base coach for three seasons.
Despite that, his new bosses are making it clear they expect an awful lot from their new manager, one who must try to achieve what his three most immediate successors couldn't do: Make a winner out of the woebegone Pirates.
``I know the system we have will work,'' the 46-year-old Russell said Monday after being hired as Pittsburgh's manager following a monthlong search. ``There are a lot of areas in which we can improve, but we have the pieces here to win games. And we're here to win.''
Only two years ago, Russell was fired shortly after Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon was let go following five seasons. Before McClendon was fired, there was considerable speculation Russell was brought in by former general manager Dave Littlefield to eventually succeed McClendon.
As it turned out, it took another regime led by new Pirates team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington to hire Russell for his first big league managing job following 10 seasons in the minors, plus time in the Arizona Fall League and Venezuela.
As for his previous firing by the Pirates, he said: ``Two years ago was two years ago. It's a different time. What happened back then was back then.''
Russell promises no team in the majors will work harder than his, and everyone in uniform will be accountable on a daily basis, from the manager on down. Of course, many other managers have said the same thing upon being hired. For Russell, the idea is to stretch the Pirates' arguably thin talent to the maximum and squeeze out victories any way possible.
``It's being a tireless instructor, it's being a tireless communicator,'' Huntington said. ``It's instilling pride and expecting things to be done the right way. It's holding the staff accountable and the players accountable.''
The Pirates haven't won more than 79 games since 1992 while enduring 15 consecutive losing seasons, one short of the major league record. Still, Russell - known for being equally intense and quiet - suggested he's tired of hearing why Pittsburgh can't win.
``I think we have a great core of players right now,'' Russell said. ``We have the pieces to win now. It's just a matter of getting the passion, the accountability, the attention to detail. That's what works. My role and the staff's role is going to be huge and we're going to be diligent, but I like what we have.''
Russell pointed to young starting pitchers such as Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Matt Capps and Zach Duke, good speed and defense, and proven hitters such as Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez as a core to build around.
Russell managed the Phillies' Triple-A team the past two seasons, guiding the Ottawa Lynx to a 55-88 record this year. The year before, he was chosen manager of the year in the International League after Scranton/Wilkes-Barre went 84-58. He has managed at every level of the minors over 10 years, in the Arizona Fall League and the Venezuelan winter league.
``We're here to win games,'' he said several times during his introductory news conference. ``When I get here at noon, 12:30 every day, we'll start to prepare to do everything we can to win that game that night.''
Russell had not worked previously with Huntington, a former Cleveland Indians executive, or Coonelly, a former Major League Baseball labor lawyer, but he said his vision and theirs quickly meshed.
``I felt like I was talking through them,'' Russell said. ``All the things they're looking for are what I'm looking for. I know what we've got will work.''
Russell's hiring is the first major move by Huntington, who took over with 10 days left in the regular season. The search lasted longer than most because Huntington wanted to talk to candidates involved in the postseason.
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said Friday he turned down a chance to interview, but Coonelly insisted he wanted a manager who has written out a lineup card - something Farrell has never done.
``I think it's very important that John has managed, and has managed for a long time,'' Coonelly said.
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 666-667 record in the minors.
He was chosen by Baseball America as the minors' best managerial prospect after the 2002 season with Triple-A Edmonton. 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 a season.
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