Upbeat Black remains steady hand for Padres
In eighth season, manager yearns to bring World Series winner to San Diego
PHOENIX -- Bud Black has won the World Series as a player with the Royals in 1985 and also as pitching coach of the Angels in 2002. He wants nothing more dearly than to win the World Series as a manager of the Padres.
"I want to win. There's nothing like it," Black said. "And I want to do it here. I am a Padre. I want our Padres to beat whoever we're playing on that particular day. There's enough to think about with what I have to do than to think about other things."
But that prospect is becoming increasingly more difficult. The Padres have six pitchers on the disabled list, two of them with elbow problems and another four in different stages of recovery from Tommy John surgery. Their team batting average of .226 is last among Major League Baseball's 30 teams.
Last Thursday night, after a loss at home to the Cubs, their fourth through seventh hitters all finished the game hitting under .200, unheard of at this juncture of the season. All of them -- Chase Headley, Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko and Will Venable -- were expected to be significant offensive contributors. Add No. 8 hitter Yasmani Grandal and none of them was hitting his weight.
Still, you have to watch Black in action. In his eighth season with the Padres, his only job as a manager, he's terminally upbeat. He meets individually with players, deadpans and jokes with the media. You have to wonder what it might be like for him managing a team with a full stock of healthy and producing players, but despite it all the Padres are still only six games under .500, and equally you have to wonder what they'd be like without him. The team could easily be swirling in turmoil, but it's not.
"As players, we have a great relationship with him, he's always been open and honest with me," Gyorko said. "No matter what the situation might be, I think that's all you can really ask of a manager, that he can approach us just like we're another guy. I think we feel comfortable enough with each other that I also feel comfortable enough approaching him."
To his point, on Monday night in the eighth inning in a loss to the D-backs, Gyorko tried to stretch a single into a double with two outs and a runner heading into third. He was easily thrown out costing the Padres a chance at winning a game that was tied 5-5 at that juncture.
Was it ill-advised?
"In hindsight, yes, probably ill-advised," Black said at the time. "You can second guess that all you want, but he was trying to get to second base. If he's safe, you're probably saying, 'Great going, Jedd, attaway.'"
The remark was typical of Black, who rarely throws a player under the bus and came as no surprise to Gyorko.
"He always has our backs and always will no matter what the situation," Gyorko said. "I think he knows that we always have his back no matter what also."
When times get tough, that always has to be balm to anyone's ears. He also has the support of Padres general manager Josh Byrnes and assistant A.J. Hinch, who have run their own gauntlet before. Byrnes was GM of the D-backs and Hinch his hand-picked manager when the two were dismissed on July 1, 2010.
Byrnes said through experience that there's no purpose to publicly talk about anyone's job status "and will refrain from doing so," although there's always a constant evaluation process and a give and take between Black and the front office.
"We talk a lot, and our focus is on winning the game," Byrnes said.
"We talk about players all the time," Black added. "That's the nature of what we do."
The Padres have had only two managers since 1995, and Black is one of them. The other was Bruce Bochy, who left for the Giants in 2007 after taking the Padres to four National League West titles and a sweep by the Yankees in the 1998 World Series.
Black is off the Mike Scioscia tree in Anaheim along with Joe Maddon of the Rays and Ron Roenicke of the Brewers. He's a favorite of Angels owner Arte Moreno, who endorsed Black highly when then-Padres president Sandy Alderson was seeking a replacement for Bochy, who was allowed to leave for the Giants despite a year remaining on his contract.
Inheriting Bochy's team in Black's first year that included Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez and Trevor Hoffman, the Padres lost a Wild Card play-in game when Hoffman couldn't hold a two-run lead at Coors Field in the 13th inning.
In 2010, the Padres surprised the experts and led the division by 6 1/2 games over the Giants on Aug. 25. But a 10-game losing streak wiped all that out. The Giants went on to win the World Series and the Padres were eliminated on the final day of the regular season when they lost in San Francisco.
Other than that, Black's tenure has been marked by injury and rebuilding. Asked if that gets old after awhile, Black said:
"It makes it tough in the short term. You hope you have some players who do find their way and become successful Major Leaguers. I mean, all of us want to win whether you're in New York, L.A., Detroit or Texas. All organizations want to win or at least feel like they're heading there."
The Padres are 564-625 under Black, who has been the rare constant through three ownership groups, three general managers and multiple club presidents. Alderson, who hired him, is with the Mets. Kevin Towers, the GM back then, is in the same position with the D-backs.
Black wouldn't use that obvious instability as an excuse.
"It doesn't really affect what we do on the field," he said. "It's all inter-related, but the changes above me don't affect how I operate. It might affect the roster I have, but that's out of any manager's control. The pressure we feel as managers is inherent in the position. We learn to deal with that when we are players."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.