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Black tries to throw a curve at baseball bias

Padres' new field boss is bucking the majors' trend of not hiring ex-pitchers as managers.

March 13, 2007|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

As a senior at San Diego State, Bud Black pitched and played first base, although he had no illusions. He knew his future was on the mound and not in the batter's box.

"I was a first baseman only in the context that most young players play more than one position in school," said Black, who would go on to pitch for 15 years in the majors and spend four more "learning the other side of it" in the Cleveland Indians' front office before becoming Mike Scioscia's respected pitching coach with the Angels for the last seven years.

Now, as a first-time manager at the helm of the San Diego Padres, Black will be trying to put all his experiences to work in confronting an industry bias against hiring former pitchers and pitching coaches as managers.

In other words, it doesn't matter that pitching is 90% of the game. Former pitchers are rarely given a chance to direct the game.

"I've asked a lot of people why that is," Black said from Arizona, "and nobody can pinpoint a reason. The only thing I can come up with is that pitching is so important and the responsibilities of a pitching coach are so important that those coaches tend to get pigeonholed as specialists rather than being considered knowledgeable in the broader spectrum.

"I've always considered myself a student of the overall game, and I think any manager or managerial candidate should stand on his own merit -- who is he and what has he done.

"It should all hinge on a person's ability to lead and communicate, not what position he played. Name any position and great perspective can come from having played it."

Black's logic seems indisputable, but the reality has been quite different.

If position players have always tended to regard pitchers as members of a quirky and non-athletic fraternity -- "there was a slight edge between players and pitchers in every clubhouse I was ever in," former pitcher and manager Larry Dierker said from his Houston home -- then maybe some of that edge has filtered into front-office thinking.

Of the 50 managers hired by major league teams since the end of the 2001 season, a year in which former pitchers Joe Kerrigan, Larry Rothschild and Dierker were fired as big league managers, Black is the only former pitcher -- and that's not just a recent trend.

Of the 100 managers with the most wins in baseball history, only four were major league pitchers: Tom Lasorda (who ranks 16th), Clark Griffith (19), Fred Hutchinson (66) and Roger Craig (72).

Craig is the last former major league pitcher to have led his team to victory in a playoff series (his San Francisco Giants beat the Chicago Cubs in the 1989 National League championship series), and only five of the 102 teams to win a World Series were managed by a former big league pitcher: Eddie Dyer with St. Louis in 1946, Bob Lemon with the New York Yankees in 1978, Dallas Green with Philadelphia in 1980 and Lasorda with the Dodgers in 1981 and 1988.

"People in baseball just don't believe that pitchers make an overall study of the game -- the defense, strategy, how to work with hitters -- and that's why a lot of former pitchers who are probably capable of managing don't get the opportunity," Lasorda said from Vero Beach, Fla.

"That's unfair. I don't think you can generalize, because a lot of managing is about communication and motivation, about feel. You can't only go by the book as a manager or in choosing a manager."

Of the 16 people elected to the Hall of Fame strictly on the basis of their record as a manager, Lasorda is the only former pitcher. He ranks as baseball's most successful former pitcher-turned-manager, and he was willing to pay dues -- which some now may not.

"I was schooled by Al Campanis and Branch Rickey and learned every phase of the game," he said, "and I would never have got the opportunity to manage if I hadn't spent eight years as a minor league manager and six in the Dominican [Republic winter league]. Campanis had my career planned out from the time I retired [as a pitcher]. I was fortunate in that regard."

Now, Lasorda often visits Dodgers minor league teams, working with hitters as well as pitchers, as he did while managing. He laughed and recalled an incident after the 1976 season, in which Steve Garvey had collected 200 hits for the third consecutive season while slugging only 13 homers.

Said Lasorda: "I told Garvey, 'I don't care if you ever get 200 hits again, I want you to hit the ball out of the park. I'm not asking you to do something you're not capable of doing.' I remember Jim Murray writing a column saying 'Can you imagine Tom Lasorda telling Steve Garvey how to hit? That's like telling the Pope about religion.' But Garvey came back to hit more than 30 homers [33] in '77 and helped us win a pennant.

"I was confident working with hitters because I had seen that side of it as a pitcher and because of all the schooling I had received."

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