The agenda-driven myths about Bud Black

MLB

Bud Black was, at best, a mediocre manager whose main accomplishments were surviving through multiple ownership and general manager regimes; accruing respect from the media; and being the case study of how a manager’s perception trumps his won-lost record in today’s game.

The San Diego Padres’ decision to fire Black was treated as if it was a personal affront to those who are judging Black not on what his teams did on the field, but on the so-called “process” that has become more important in certain circles of thought. There’s an agenda in play and it supersedes how managers were once judged. If there’s a manager who’s adaptable, willing to listen to front office “suggestions,” and is able to play the role of manager regardless of whether or not he’s good at the actual job, then he’ll be treated as if he’s better than he is.

The media likes Black because he answered their questions without the trademark smugness and condescension that greets them with most managers. Front offices like Black because of the aforementioned attributes that might be useful if the roster is strong enough to account for his strategic gaffes. He’s good with the pitchers and especially at handling a bullpen. This is to be expected from a former pitching coach. As for running an offense, it was a vanilla, conservative, inside baseball-type blueprint that stemmed from him working as a longtime coach for Mike Scioscia and that he was a pitcher.

The facts regarding Black are as follows:

  • He accrued a record of 649-713 in eight-plus seasons.
  • He oversaw two teams that essentially had playoff spots sewn up and they blew them both on the last weekend of the season.
  • He finished over .500 twice – in the those two seasons in which they blew their playoff spots.
  • He was in the last season of his contract, was not hired by new Padres GM A.J. Preller, and Preller has the right to bring in the manager he wants.

His defenders say that he was functioning with an unstable ownership and front office; his teams were never particularly good; and he was dealing with payroll constraints. So he gets credit for the two teams with winning records, but is absolved of blame for every other season including one in which he lost 99 games? How’s that work?

He has some positives, but they’re not enough for him to retain his job given all the negatives. There was an argument for him to keep his job, but this firing is not on a level of idiocy of Ken Harrelson firing Tony La Russa as manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1986.

When looking at the situation as a whole, what is the justification for saying his firing was unfair? Even if the reasons provided in his defense are accurate, the fact remains that he had been with the club for an extended period of time and won absolutely nothing while the man he replaced, Bruce Bochy, has won three titles in San Francisco with the Giants.

This is all linked to the new job description of managers. In the past, teams hired managers because they thought they were superior strategists, because they sold tickets, or because they’d worked their way up to the opportunity. Off-field issues such as excessive drinking, womanizing, a terrible attitude toward the media, and rampant insubordination were glossed over with that one end in mind: winning. In today’s game, it’s naïve to think that teams would get away with hiring a Billy Martin-type for whom it was a matter of when rather than if he got into trouble off the field, but jumping to the diametrically opposed position and hiring a manager with his on-field tactics seen as essentially meaningless is probably worse.

As reluctant as front offices are to hire a manager whose off-field behaviors are likely to make a firing necessary, the new age front offices are also reluctant to hire a manager who will demand some level of say-so in the construction of the roster and will have the lucrative contract as well as the support of the old-school media, fans and ownership to pull an end-around on the GM and get what he wants.

With Black, none of this was a problem with the Padres, nor will it be a problem in his next job.

This ties in with the manner in which baseball people are judged. It’s how we see published posts on reputable sites listing the “best” GMs to the “worst.” I suppose if you want to have Billy Beane as number one, there’s an argument to do it. But to have him at number one with Brian Sabean – he of the three World Series wins in five years and fielding a consistent contender rife with homegrown talent – is clearly based on a selfish attempt to push one’s own belief systems as “right.” How is new Los Angels Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi – on the job for six months and whose big free agent signing was giving $50 million to Brandon McCarthy who promptly needed Tommy John surgery – the sixth “best” GM in baseball? Based on what? How is Matt Silverman – on the job for a shorter time than Zaidi – ahead of veteran Dan Duquette?

Why?

It’s for the same reason as the assertion that Black is a good manager and the Padres are stupid for having fired him: an agenda.

This is not to say that working with front offices, handling the media and being well-liked as Black was are without import, but in the end it comes down to what happens on the field and on the field, Black was found wanting. He had a poor record. He oversaw two inexplicable collapses. The new GM gave him a better team and more than enough rope at one-third of the season before pulling the trigger. And the one thing that Black was supposed to be “expert” in – the pitching – had been awful. In spite of floating concepts to the contrary, he got fired and deserved to get fired. The Padres may not be better without him, but they certainly won’t be worse.

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