The Nine Lives Of Bud Black

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Baseball aficionados are a particularly zealous bunch. This opinionated group has views on every facet of the game, such as who is over/under/properly rated, who should be starting, which coaches ought to be fired, and why a pitcher’s mechanics may be out of whack. No matter the judgment or level of expertise, baseball fans have an answer or theory for everything that goes on.

Fredi Gonazalez? Fire him!

Derek Jeter? Great guy, terrible fielder.

Instant replay? It’s not enough.

2004 Red Sox? Idiots (according to both Boston and New York fans).

With the amount of acerbic venom harbored by fans, as well as the internet allowing everyone to voice their views regardless of whether or not they are rational or asinine, it is an absolute shock that so many fans are unable to come to a conclusion on San Diego Padres manager, Bud Black. In a Google search of any manager in baseball, one will find posts, blogs, comments, and articles either praising their acumen and style or coming just short of calling for them to step up to a guillotine, but Bud Black’s name only elicits sympathy, indifference, and apathy.

The lack of fan love and dislike for Black can be boiled down to a few varying factors: Padres fans are few and largely uninterested when compared with most other franchises, Black has managed under multiple General Managers and owners, and the talent pool of the Padres is middling at best.

This upcoming season will be Black’s ninth in San Diego; the previous eight have yielded two winning seasons, no playoff appearances, and a less than pedestrian record of 617-680. It is even worse when one of the factors is the 10-game collapse during the 2010 season, when the Padres blew their only legitimate shot at the postseason in the last five years and Black was unable to rescue or even stabilize the sinking ship.

There are myriad stories about how great of a guy Black is, how he works well with both his players and the San Diego media, which is certainly a positive attribute for the manager of a franchise. He has garnered sympathy and a few passes due to the volatility of the Padres organization, and people believe him to possess a keen baseball mind. That is all fine and good, but when young pitchers never reach the heights that seem reasonable and position players flounder, someone ought to be held responsible. The one man who has been around for it all has been Bud Black. (An aside: as an example of young players falling off, I remember listening to Dick Enberg during the 2010 season talk up the coming of a young minor leaguer named Lance Zawadzki. He played in 20 games and was never seen again. Cameron Maybin’s decline would be another instance of a player not developing or even regressing once they get to the major leagues.)

So often we witness MLB fans, or fans of any sport, claim that they would do things differently. They would make the moves that owners and GM’s do not have the courage to attempt. However, the case of retaining or firing Bud Black is not one that many fans would probably feel great about irrespective of their decision. The Padres and their manager are in a peculiar situation, wherein both sides of the issue are cogent and persuasive, and the vacillation of the decision makers in the organization is understandable, if maddening.  It is probably the reason that Black is about to begin his ninth season.

A manager is never fully responsible for everything that happens over the course of a full season and he hardly bears any accountability for organizational defects, but he does set the tone on the field. He is tasked to mold younger players, navigate the emotions of rookies and veterans, and strategize effectively. No matter how nice of a guy or hard working Bud Black is, it is just not working in San Diego

Nonetheless, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that while Black may get the most out of his players, he is not doing much to make them better. You can squeeze a lemon and get juice, but you need to add more ingredients to get lemonade. Black has squeezed every last drop out of the lemons, and it does not matter if he has Kyle Blanks to help him do it because, unfortunately, he has not added much.

Kevin Pittack, MLB Correspondent for Baseball Essential

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