Black edges Baker by one for top NL skipper
Padres manager honored for pushing team to brink of playoffs
SAN DIEGO -- It didn't take a 10-game losing streak for Padres catcher Nick Hundley to finally see what kind of manager he was truly playing for, though it did reveal something about Bud Black that left an ineffaceable impression.
This was early September and the Padres, who once had a seemingly safe 6 1/2-game lead in the National League West and were the unforeseen darlings of baseball, were suddenly in the throes of a losing skid that was threatening to sink them.
Black, who Wednesday was named the NL Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, refused to let that happen, Hundley said.
"When all hell is breaking loose, you look to the captain and the leader in the clubhouse," Hundley said. "At that time, Buddy was really stable. I thought he was really poised. He said we were going to turn this thing around.
"It's a testament to him that he didn't let things unravel."
The Padres finished the regular season with a 14-13 record after that losing skid, pushing the Giants to the final day of the regular season before being eliminated from postseason consideration.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR VOTING
|Bud Black, Padres||16||7||3||104|
|Dusty Baker, Reds||13||12||2||103|
|Bruce Bochy, Giants||1||4||13||30|
|Bobby Cox, Braves||1||4||11||28|
|Charlie Manuel, Phillies||1||4||3||20|
|Brad Mills, Astros||-||1||-||3|
The BBWAA selected Black as the NL Manager of the Year by just one point, as he edged Dusty Baker of the Reds. It marked the third time in the history of the vote that one point separated the winner from the runner-up.
BBWAA ballots for Manager of the Year, and other postseason awards, are turned in at the end of the regular season. Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire took home the award in the American League.
In the opinion of Padres players, coaches and general manager Jed Hoyer, Wednesday's vote should not have been as close as it was, especially given the Padres went into 2010 with the second-lowest payroll in baseball ($38 million), and a roster that was mostly filled with players low on Major League service time. All while being fitted by prognosticators for the doormat of the division.
"Vegas had us winning 71 games," Hoyer said. "They don't build those casinos by losing money. For me, [Black] was a clear choice."
The Padres, built around one of the best pitching staffs on the planet, led the NL West for nearly the entire season before finishing with 90 victories, which represented a 15-game improvement. This coming just two seasons after a miserable 99-loss season.
"The numbers speak for themselves," said Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley. "We were picked to finish last in our division and we won 90 games."
And they did so with a roster mostly devoid of marquee talent. Adrian Gonzalez, the first baseman, had another All-Star season, as did relief pitcher Heath Bell. But it was the sum of all parts, strategically guided by Black, which allowed the Padres to flourish.
"I'm not sure we overachieved," Black said. "When you look at the year we had ... we played sound baseball. It's an indication of how our guys played. We did a lot of great things on the field. Our players and our coaches did a lot to get us where we got during the course of the season.
"There was a sense among our team that we were better than people thought we were."
In his fourth season as manager, Black earned rave reviews for the way that he handled the mix of personalities and experience level of the players on his roster, from 22-year-old Mat Latos to 42-year-old Matt Stairs.
"He has confidence and respect for our entire team, no matter age or how long we've been in the big leagues. He's not the guy who yells, but he still can get his point across," Latos said. "Bud's laid back, but the discipline is still there. He relates to everyone."
It's all part of the job, Black said, a job that has certainly evolved since he was a pitcher in the Major Leagues. It was along the way that Black picked up elements from managers he played for, like Dick Howser in Kansas City, which helped shape him into the manager he is now.
"I think he sets the tone for everything we do," Hoyer said. "From the first day of Spring Training, he had a sense of confidence about this team. He has hard conversations [with players] well. He also knows when to put an arm around a guy. We had zero clubhouse drama. Players deserve a ton of credit for that.
"But he was there making sure issues didn't arise."
How did Black accomplish as much? By showing he cared about his players, Hundley said.
"I think the biggest thing the players feel is that we feel like Buddy cares about us. When you have a manager that cares for you and know he has your back, it's easy to lay it out on the line for him," Hundley said. "We respected him because of it.
"He wants us to do well, he roots for you. That makes it really easy for us as players to go out and play hard for the guy."
In July, the Padres awarded Black with a three-year contract extension through 2013 with club options for 2014 and 2015.
About the only thing Black's Padres didn't stick in 2010 was the finish. They dropped 10 consecutive games during a fitful stretch that spanned late August into early September.
"Even during that 10-game losing streak, it was all about consistency. We didn't make a point of talking about losing streaks or winning streaks. It was all about being consiseant," Balsley said. "I think that we rebounded pretty well from the losing streak.
"We were still in the hunt. If you can go through that and stay close, that says a lot about your skipper."
The Padres did recover down the stretch to give themselves a chance to win the division and make the playoffs, winning the first two games of a season-ending three-game road series against the Giants. A loss in the third game of that series ended their season.
Black was asked Wednesday during a press conference at PETCO Park about what it was like watching the Giants win the World Series. Black paused briefly before reflecting on his own experiences, having won a World Series as a player with the Royals in 1985 and a pitching coach in Anaheim in 2002.
And, of course, Black talked about the times the teams he was on or a part of didn't win, referencing too many of those close calls that date back to his time at Mark Morris High in Longview, Wash.
"It's tough to win a championship," he said. "It's still tough to lose. I still feel those [past experiences]. I still feel this one. Winning is tough. The sting leaves you a little bit as each day goes on, but it still stings."