Pirates facing wrong kind of challenge

Unfortunately, Clint Hurdle has more to worry about than just his lineup card. Howard Smith/US PRESSWIRE

The Pittsburgh Pirates understand that if any member of their organization uses a racial slur, or a word rooted in racial hate, then it's a serious issue that needs to be addressed. "If that ever happened," said one official, "then we'd have a major problem, and we would do something about it."

After Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips accused Pirates pitcher Jared Hughes of yelling an unacceptable racist word at him the other day, Pittsburgh officials looked into the matter extensively, even forensically, examining different angles of television replays of the incident. They spoke with players and staffers who were in the vicinity, from catcher Rod Barajas to manager Clint Hurdle to center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

The Pirates reached this conclusion: Hughes did not do what Phillips says he did. "Jared Hughes is a tremendous young man," said Pirates GM Neal Huntington. "Jared knows what he said. He knows he did not say what he's accused of saying.

"We know beyond a shadow of a doubt he didn't say what he's accused of saying."

Beyond the simple fact that the Pirates are certain that Hughes didn't yell the word "boy" at Phillips, they moved aggressively to defend the pitcher Wednesday because they know how a charge of racism can hang on a player's reputation.

Phillips and Hughes spoke by phone Tuesday and seemingly settled their differences, but the Pirates were greatly surprised when Phillips reiterated Wednesday that Hughes used the racially charged phrase, and said that Hughes acknowledged using it in their phone call. From Rob Biertempfel's story:

    In an interview with NBC's "SportsTalk," Phillips told Erik Kuselias that Hughes "said what he said" after Phillips was hit by a pitch. Phillips said it was the first time he had heard a player make a racist comment on the field during a game.
    When Kuselias pressed Phillips to confirm Hughes made an offensive remark, Phillips paused and said, "He did. That's what we talked about. If you want to know what he said, you should ask him." Phillips said he forgave Hughes during their phone conversation Tuesday.
    Hughes said Wednesday he was surprised and frustrated by Phillips' comments to NBC.