The San Diego Padres named a Rancho Santa Fe resident as their manager in November. Harry Ralston “Bud” Black, 49, is a former starting pitcher with two World Series rings to his name. His first came on the Kansas City Royals in 1985, the second as the Anaheim Angels’ pitching coach in 2002. Black’s record was 121-115 during his 15-year career, which also took him to Seattle, San Francisco, Cleveland and Toronto. He spent 7 years coaching the Angels.
He replaces Bruce Bochy, who left the Padres to manage the San Francisco Giants. Bochy led the Padres to two consecutive Western Division titles — and two straight early playoff exits. Black sat down to talk with voiceofsandiego.org to discuss his off season, the Padres’ outlook this season and why George Brett’s 1983 “pine tar incident” was so “dramatically eerie.”
Can you give me some idea of what you’ve been doing since you were announced? What has your off season been like?
Well, mostly, I’ve been getting to know the people in the organization, the front office people, the people here at the stadium and, most importantly, getting to know the players as best I can, most of it by phone calls. I have met a number of guys who live here locally. And I’ve met a lot of guys for the first time here at FriarFest, so you have a little bit of familiarity going into the season.
Has it been a matter of watching game film?
I’ve done some of that but not a lot. (Brian Giles walks past.) OK, Brian, seeya buddy. See you this week? Maybe come down at all? (Giles says he’ll be there the next day.) All right, Brian, seeya man.
See? Like that. He’s going to come down and hit with (hitting coach) Merv (Rettenmund). I’ve seen a lot of these guys play before, either from TV or the other dugout. I know their game. I’m trying to get to know them as people more than anything.
You spent 4 years with the Giants near the end of your career. Do you anticipate an adjustment to a National League style of management?
There’s a definite difference managing an American League game and a National League game, that’s for sure. But my experience as a player in the National League, and we did have a lot of interleague games over the years in Anaheim. The coaching staff has some input in decision-making as the game goes, and those guys have all been National League guys for a number of years, Glenn (Hoffman), Darren (Balsley), the pitching coach. There’s a lot more subtle moves that go on during a National League game than an American League game.
How would you describe your management style?
I don’t think I could be classified as one thing. I think a good manager has the ability to do many different things as far as style. Each particular game determines how you might manage that day. I believe in fundamentals as far as being able to bunt; solid defense. We’re going to hit-and-run. We’re going to do some things that press the game a little bit. Personally, my nature is — I’ll be encouraging, but I won’t be loud. My demeanor is more under control.
How do you anticipate managing the clubhouse? A Bobby Cox-style lockdown?
I think we’re going to be professional, we have players that represent that type of player. I want our guys to have fun, but I want them to be focused at the same time. You can’t walk in a clubhouse every day at 2 o’clock and be uptight for eight months. There has to be some levity at times, there has to be some laughter.
You said you passed up other opportunities to manage, but that the timing was right now. Were you waiting for this job to open up?
No. I wasn’t waiting for any particular job to open up, per se. In a perfect world, if I did decide to throw my name in the hat, I thought it would be ideal to land a position on the West Coast, anywhere from Seattle on down to San Diego. I felt as though geographically for me, that would be a great fit. I was hesitant a few years ago to go back east. My daughters were still in high school. One is now out in college, one is in high school. I thought my experience of 7 years in Anaheim, I had gotten to the point where I thought I was ready professionally and mentally to take this on. And on the personal side, my daughters were at an age where it was time for me to give this a challenge, knowing that the time commitments would increase, but that my younger daughter could handle me being away just a little bit more.
Certainly there were a fair number of managerial openings this season. It seems like you lucked out. You come into a team that’s been to the playoffs the last two years.
Very rarely do you land a position where the team is a defending champion 2 years in a row. Usually, a managerial change takes place due to poor performance by the team. You don’t see this happen very often. It’s happened before, but it’s very rare. I’m coming into a situation where we do have good players, they’ve won, so that experience is in place. Now it’s just a matter, for me, of keeping it going in the right direction, realizing that what they’ve done is great, but there’s more to accomplish.
The team is 1-6 in the playoffs in the last two years. Is that something you address with them? Is that something you try to distance them from?
I think that the players know what they’ve done, so I don’t think there’s any need to address it. In the event that we do start playing some meaningful games in September and October, I might, being a different voice, help guys think a little differently as they move into the playoffs.
Sometimes players need to hear the same thing said a different way. And I think that that might click. That’s a tough one, in that if you get to the playoffs, once you get to the playoffs, the players are in a position to win. And it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to win a championship. But winning a championship in baseball sometimes hinges on a couple of pitches. And a lot of times that is out of a manager’s control. If a new voice can say something during the course of a meeting that might give the players a different perspective on how to approach a game, that might be enough.
Can you offer a critique of Greg Maddux, now at 40 years old, coming in here?
The guy still wins games. He won 15 games last year, which is more than anybody on our present staff. He still logs innings. He threw over 200 innings, and at his age that’s a great accomplishment. The durability is awesome, looking back over his career. He’s still capable. He’s not throwing with the velocity he did in his prime. The crispness to his pitches isn’t like it was in his prime, but still, the guy knows how to compete, how to get guys out. I’m looking forward to watching him up close — every start, every pitch. I was with the Giants when he was with the Cubs, and the number of games he pitched against us was two, maybe three a year. I’m looking forward to talking to him, more than anything, about pitching. You’ll see some of our guys definitely pick his brain.
You were the starting pitcher in the infamous “pine tar incident.” Can you reflect on that a little bit? That’s a moment that has lodged itself in the folklore of baseball — is it equally vivid for you?
The events after are very vivid. It just started out as another ballgame, until the ninth inning when George (Brett) hit that homer.
I was in the clubhouse, icing my arm, so I saw it unfold on TV, so I didn’t see it from the dugout. What unfolded after the umpire called George out is still fairly vivid. There was a lot of hijinks. The umpires were trying to confiscate the bat, we had the bat in the clubhouse, trying to keep them from getting to it to send it to the commissioner’s office.
But finally it got there. And then the six weeks after, while the game was in limbo, before the commissioner’s office ruled that the home run would stand, we had an extra loss on our record. I had an extra loss on my record for six weeks, which was sort of funny. And then one day, all of a sudden, I had one less loss. The thing that is really vivid is when we went back to New York to finish the game, how dramatically eerie that was — going back to New York to play a game that was basically four outs. There was maybe a couple hundred people in the stands at Yankee Stadium, which is usually 50,000 plus. We only took 14 players into the ballpark.
We got there an hour before we were supposed to start the game. We were only at Yankee Stadium for what seemed like an hour-and-a-half. The one interesting thing I remember, which was great, is that baseball covered all of its bases. When the Yankees took the field, which was with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, they appealed all the bases. We had a different umpiring crew. So the pitcher stepped off, threw to first. The umpire said, “Safe.” And this is a different umpiring crew. Same thing at second, same thing at third. And all of a sudden, here comes Billy Martin out of the dugout, and he wants to protest the game. He’s saying: How do you know that George Brett touched first base, you weren’t even here, you were in Seattle. And the home plate umpire, who was the crew chief, Davey Phillips, brings out a piece of paper with an affidavit from the other umpires, saying that George did touch all the bases. They had it all covered.
(Ron) Guidry was in the outfield, (Don) Mattingly was playing second base. You could only play with the people who were on the roster at the original game, and you had guys who’d been sent back to the minors or traded or released. The Yankees had to shuffle their players.
Are there other games that you have in your personal album that equally as poignant?
I think the first game you ever play in Fenway Park was a great experience. I have two World Series appearances. My first game as a Giant in Candlestick Park, that was a special day for me. I grew up a Giants fan. Pitching in Candlestick, I remember that one. I remember my first win.
Who’d your first win come against?
Against the Twins, when I was in Kansas City.
Can you reflect on the difference between winning a World Series as a player, and then as a coach?
Nothing beats being a player. If you ask any manager or coach who played, nothing will ever replace being a player for those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to do both. I always feel special about winning in Kansas City. It was a little different winning in Anaheim. It was great as well, being a part of a coaching staff that put the pieces together to win a championship, even though you’re not in the fire as a player.
Looking back, there was some decision-making along the playoff road that we’re very proud of. Decisions that were questioned, as playoff decisions go, which are all highly scrutinized. But I think Mike (Scioscia) and I can look back and say: Remember this decision. But knowing that the players are the ones who get it done. Satisfaction, absolutely as a coach, based on being part of a winning effort, knowing what goes into a championship season starting in February and ending in October. I appreciate coaches and managers now, looking back on my career, more so than I did as a player. Which I feel a little bit badly about, but that’s experience. The older I get, the more I realize what experience means.
Was there a decision in your mind that that 2002 World Series hinged on?
No, I think we held true to what we did through most of the season, decision-making as far as pitching moves — that were questioned by the media and baseball experts. In Game One, at Yankee Stadium, in the first round of the playoffs. Eighth inning, and we had the lead. And we didn’t bring Percy (Troy Percival) in during the eighth inning, which we very rarely did during the season. And that got a little bit criticized. And we lost the game. In the second game, we did the exact same thing, didn’t bring him in and won the game. We didn’t ask Percy to do anything more than what he did during the regular season. Players are creatures of habit, they like structure.
Is the Opening Day lineup set in your mind?
We’ve got a pretty good idea, based on the roster now. But things can change, if there’s an injury. We’re not sure of the exact batting order, but we know who’s going to be in the field.
Have you named an Opening Day pitcher?
No. That won’t be announced until middle to late March. Obviously we have an idea of who our five starters will be, but a lot can change about the order coming out of spring training.
You have two 40-year-olds in the starting rotation. Is their durability a concern?
If you look at any rotation, all 30 teams, all managers and pitching coaches worry about durability. Plenty of things can happen in this game. But if you look at Greg’s history, he’s made his starts. History tells you he’s going to make his starts. With David (Wells), his history is one where I’m not worried about his arm. His arm has been sound. It’s been the knee or the back or something else. And the other guys, Chris Young has shown some durability, Jake (Peavy) has been pretty durable. No matter who the five are, you worry about the durability. That’s no different with our guys.
Jake’s ERA jumped from 2.88 a year ago to 4.03 last year. Was there a reason to that? Does he need to tweak something in the off season?
I didn’t see every inning he pitched, but potentially he’s capable of what we saw 2 years ago where he won the ERA title and led the league in strikeouts. From what I’ve heard, I don’t think he felt physically as good as he has in years past. He was able to take the ball and pitch, but he had some ailments along the way that inhibited his ability to effectively pitch on a regular basis. But not enough to miss starts.
You threw 32 complete games in your career. What has changed so dramatically about that statistic, which seems to be a thing of the past?
It’s evolved to the point where specialization has taken over the pitching side of baseball. This is starting even at the high school level, into college, into the minor leagues, where there’s a certain role for certain pitchers, and you stick by it. Years ago, when I first started, everybody was a starting pitcher until you proved you couldn’t start, and then you were a relief pitcher. Pitchers aren’t asked to go innings. They’re asked to go 100, 110 pitches. It’s a combination of protecting the starter a little more than what you used to. You’re overly concerned with the health of the starter, for financial reasons, and so you really watch the wear-and-tear on their arms, because you want them to make their starts.
I read an interview with you, and you said you thought Mark McGwire would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame. I’m curious for your perspective on that, and the steroid debate in baseball. Will time sort out those players’ places in baseball history?
I think so. I think eventually he will get in. I do think that it’s a very emotional topic right now for a lot of people. The writers and the general public are very emotional about the impact of the performance-enhancing drugs in the game. The big question that I’ve tried to answer is: How much did it truly help an individual player? Because I think that if you take players who have maybe taken some performance-enhancers, their performance probably didn’t get any better. There are some guys who took performance-enhancers and it maybe helped them a little bit. And there are some that maybe helped them a lot. So I don’t know the true impact on how much impact it had on players — and this is not even using Mark’s name. We don’t know how much it has done.
Was it a matter of people in the clubhouse looking the other way as it was happening?
I think it got to the point where people just didn’t know if it was helping, I think in the early stages. That’s how I saw it. I don’t think guys looked the other way.