As you probably know, Padres skipper Bud Black has had his contract extended through 2013, with club options for 2014 and 2015. I should say a few words about that. Okay: I like it.
Hmmm, maybe that was too few words. Let me elaborate.
I’m of the opinion that a field manager, unless he is a horrible strategist or tactician (e.g., Bob Brenly in the 2001 World Series), doesn’t have a huge impact on his team’s success or failure in any single game. His main responsibility is to play the right guys, rest ‘em once in a while, and let everyone do their jobs. Sure, it drove me crazy when Black had his #2 hitter lay down a sacrifice bunt in the first inning a couple years ago, but I’m over that… mostly. In the overall scheme of things, it just doesn’t matter.
Opinions are made to be changed (provided better evidence arises), but where I see a manager adding value is in how he interacts with his charges and his bosses. Does he have his players’ (and the organization’s) best interests at heart? Will he advocate for them if needed. Black’s predecessor, Bruce Bochy, was great at this… provided the player had accrued enough service time to be granted his trust.
Black has done a good job as well, even extending his support of players to the less established among them. This is crucial in a market like San Diego, where the budgets aren’t big and you need to make nice with the young’uns.
I remember back to the way he stuck with Kevin Kouzmanoff when Kouz was trying (and failing) to establish himself as a big-league player. Even if it hadn’t worked out as well as it did, the decision not to give up on Kouz has come to be a defining moment in Black’s tenure as manager of the Padres. If you know nothing else about Black as a manager, know this: he will give his players a chance to succeed.
Regarding how the manager works with the front office, we have seen in the past what happens when the two are misaligned (Xavier Nady sends his regards). This doesn’t mean everyone has to agree on everything (how creepy would that be?), but it does mean they should be moving in roughly the same direction.
New GM Jed Hoyer has said that he enjoys working with Black, which strikes me as a Good Thing (TM). How it translates into wins and losses, I don’t know, but in my personal experience (anecdotal evidence alert), I’ve found that I tend to be more productive in a positive work environment.
One of the things I like about Black is that he isn’t afraid to play the kids, even if it means the possibility of experiencing short-term failure. This year, in particular, he’s had to straddle a line that nobody expected to exist — between breaking in young players and trying to win a championship.
I like that Black talks to umpires if he sees a problem and that he does so in a diplomatic way. The other day I was on a radio show and we got to discussing Lou Piniella, who recently announced his retirement. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but the gist of it was that I’ll remember Piniella more for his on-field tirades than for his managing, which is a shame because he was a good manager.
Even if Black achieves a similar level of success, he’ll never attract the attention because he is, frankly, a bit boring… which is just fine with me. I’ve got nothing against drama — been known to indulge on occasion myself — but I’m more interested in actual results.
Another thing I like about Black is that he’s from here. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s always bothered me that the Padres don’t have much tradition and that they don’t celebrate what little they have. Other cities take pride in their teams’ legacies, why can’t we?
The situation is improving, and I think that having guys from San Diego on the ballclub helps. The Padres three All-Star representatives (Adrian Gonzalez, Heath Bell, and Black) all have strong ties to San Diego.
I’m in favor of anything that binds a franchise to the city it calls home. Having a San Diegan at the helm of San Diego’s baseball team makes sense to me. For better or for worse, Black is one of us. There’s something to be said for that.
Finally, although the Padres’ recent success is exciting, I’m not sure it alone is reason enough to extend Black. Everyone who has played a role in getting this team where it is today deserves their share of credit, but the decision to retain Black’s services for the next few years has to go beyond current outcomes and look forward to desired future outcomes as well.
In other words, the terrific end of 2009 and start of 2010 helped Black’s cause, but even without those, I get the sense that he was going to be the guy. I could be wrong; that’s just a feeling I’ve had pretty much since he arrived. Black seems well suited to the ballclub and vice versa. What’s not to like?