Black a tremendous pick for Nationals
Track record -- especially in handling players -- makes him a good fit
The Washington Nationals haven't answered all their offseason questions with the expected hiring of Bud Black as manager. But they've taken care of the largest one, and they've done it emphatically and wisely.
There'll be no more questions about the Nationals' manager -- at least not about his leadership, game management or poise. Nor will there be doubts about his ability to build relationships in the clubhouse and to get a consistently hard effort every single game.
In the end, that's a manager's primary responsibility. There's a tendency to focus on game strategy when those things, the smart moves vs. the lousy ones, are percentage points apart.
If players play hard for a manager, if they trust him and if he sets a team-first tone that puts everyone on the same page, then a manager is doing his job. Sure, bullpen management matters. So do defensive shifts, lineups, etc.
But we live in an era when the game's best front offices cull through reams of data and offer their manager assistance in those areas. What no front office can replicate is the human touch of a manager who has a feel for the things that matter to players: rest, playing time, roles.
This may be Black's strength above all others. He has always had a feel for his clubs and his players -- what they want, what they need. His guys will know he has an open-door policy, and that he truly will listen to concerns and complaints.
That's important in the course of a season with all its highs and lows, outside influences and -- in the case of the Nationals -- expectations. The Nationals will find out quickly that they can trust the new skipper and he will have their back at all times with the umpires, media and fans.
In the last 36 years, Black has been a Major League player, coach and front-office executive. During nine seasons and 1,362 games as manager of the Padres, he established himself as one of baseball's best managers.
Before that, he pitched for 15 seasons in the big leagues and then held a variety of jobs, including serving as Mike Scioscia's pitching coach with the Angels. Thanks to all those experiences, no player is likely to experience something Black, 58, hasn't experienced himself.
If you're focused on his record, that's fair. He's 649-713. He did the best he could with the talent he was given. He impressed people, too, having won one National League Manager of the Year Award (2010) and finished fifth twice and eighth twice in nine seasons.
Black will be working for a general manager, Mike Rizzo, who will sort through a laundry list of needs over the next few weeks and deliver a roster that will excite him. If Rizzo can add bullpen arms, if he can acquire at least one hitter, the Nationals will be good enough to win the NL East in 2016.
At some point next season, Rizzo is going to look back and realize that he got lucky. As good as he thinks Black is now, he may just end up being better.
There were other interesting candidates, but for a team that has won two division championships in four years but been unable to win a playoff series, Black seems like a significant step in the right direction.
After some lean years with the Padres, Black may be as happy to land in Washington -- a team in a win-now mode with a very good farm system -- as the Nationals are to get him. Again, there's lots of work still left on Rizzo's desk. If this first decision is indicative of what's ahead, it will be a tremendous offseason.