Oct 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The Nationals’ planned hiring of Harry Ralston Black as their next manager isn’t going to cause people to leap out of their seats in jubilation.
The 58-year-old everyone has always known simply as “Bud” isn’t the kind of guy who brings a commanding presence to every room he enters. He’s not going to march into the Nats’ clubhouse and instantly change the culture.
Casual baseball fans probably don’t know a whole lot about the guy, whose 15-year career as a big-league pitcher was about as average as they get: a 121-116 record and 3.84 ERA with five different franchises. And his managerial record during 8 1/2 years in San Diego was rather uninspiring: 649 wins, 713 losses, zero postseason berths.
What exactly, you may be asking, made Black the clear-cut choice to take over a Nationals franchise that once again will enter next season with the loftiest of expectations, hoping this time to actually live up to the billing?
The answer boils down to two words: Experience and reputation.
After watching the Matt Williams Era end in embarrassing fashion, both on the field and behind the scenes, general manager Mike Rizzo knew his next manager needed a track record. Williams was a complete unknown, having barely managed in the minors and having only spent a few years on the Diamondbacks’ big-league coaching staff before coming to Washington to lead a World Series contender.
Black, on the other hand, is a completely known entity. He has decades of experience, including nine seasons as Mike Scioscia’s pitching coach in Anaheim before moving to San Diego in 2007 for his first managerial gig. He has been a position of authority in a major-league dugout the last 18 years. He has seen every scenario that arises. He’s not going to be overwhelmed by any aspect of the job.
Experience, of course, doesn’t count for everything. If it did, Dusty Baker (who managed the Giants, Cubs and Reds for a total of 20 seasons) would’ve been given this job in a heartbeat instead of losing out to a member of his pitching staff in San Francisco from two decades ago.
That’s where Black’s reputation catapulted him to the top of the pile. He is universally respected around the game. Padres players were crushed by his firing last June, recognizing their skipper was an undeserving fall guy for their failures on the field. People throughout baseball — players, coaches, executives, media — all agreed Black would get another managerial job in short order.
Here’s evidence of the way Black is viewed in the sport: Despite owning a career .477 winning percentage and only two winning seasons in nine tries, he received NL Manager of the Year votes on five separate occasions, winning the award in 2010.
Consensus opinion on Black is clear. He is universally regarded as a good manager who never really had a chance to win big with a San Diego franchise that spent little on payroll and underwent several front-office shakeups over the years.
If Black proves a success in D.C., he certainly wouldn’t be the first manager to make good after years of mediocrity or worse.
Bobby Cox didn’t reach the postseason once in his first eight years as a big-league manager. He then got there 17 times in his final 22 seasons.
Joe Torre reached October just once in 14 seasons managing the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. Then he did it 14 times in 15 years with the Yankees, winning four World Series titles.
Terry Francona was a bust over four seasons in Philadelphia. Then he went to Boston and won two World Series in four years.
And then there are the two skippers currently squaring off in this World Series. Terry Collins managed 10 big-league seasons without a single trip to the postseason. Now he’s in the Fall Classic. And Ned Yost, viewed as a failure during his first 10 managerial seasons, has now been to the World Series two straight years and at this moment owns the best winning percentage (.714) of anyone in history who has managed at least 20 postseason games.
None of that, of course, guarantees Black will win big in Washington. But if he does, it won’t come as a shock to those who have followed recent baseball history and who have followed his own career.
This was by no means a bold decision by Rizzo and the Lerner family. They didn’t take a chance on a longtime bench coach like Ron Wotus or a baseball icon like Cal Ripken or a proven winner like Dusty Baker.
No, the Nationals made the safe choice in selecting Bud Black to be their next manager. After everything dramatic this franchise has been through in the last year, maybe it was time to do something safe for a change.
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