MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Padres face big decision on Black's future

Skipper widely respected in San Diego's clubhouse, throughout the league

Padres face big decision on Black's future

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres have a major decision to make whether tomorrow, next week or at the end of the season, regarding the future of Bud Black, the veteran manager in the final year of his contract.

General manager A.J. Preller has been entrusted with making the decision of whether to extend Black, in his ninth season as San Diego's manager, and Preller said earlier in the season that the decision largely would be based on the club's performance.

But there are certainly other key factors to consider. Black is beloved and respected within the Padres clubhouse.

"Oh, absolutely, it's not just in this clubhouse, but it's in every clubhouse," said closer Craig Kimbrel, a relative newcomer who was acquired by the Padres from the Braves just a day before the start of this regular season. "Buddy is very respected throughout the league."

Kimbrel played for Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox and the well-liked Fredi Gonzalez in Atlanta, and those men are his apt comparisons.

"As a pitcher himself, Buddy loves his pitchers and really expects a lot out of us, and that's good," Kimbrel said. "I'm just getting to know him and it's been enjoyable so far."

That respect doesn't only come from the pitchers, but from the position players, too.

"I love it, I love playing for Buddy," said third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who came over from Boston this past December during a two-day flurry of trades that recast the current team. "He's a good players' manager. From what I've seen, he's a very smart, cerebral manager, who knows the game inside and out. He respects the game and that trickles down to us. We watch him and we learn from him as well."

About Black's contract situation, Middlebrooks added that it's not his area of expertise.

"But the business side of the game stinks," he said. "All I know is that he's a great manager, and I enjoy coming to the park and playing for him every day."

Black can do whatever he wants in the game. He has a business administration degree from San Diego State, won 121 games in his 15 year big league career, worked in the front office for the Cleveland Indians, was a pitching coach with the Angels for seven seasons under Mike Scioscia, and took over the Padres for the departed Bruce Bochy in 2007.

If San Diego determines that it's wise to go in a different direction, another team will snap up Black almost instantaneously. In another era and under a different owner and club president, the Padres made that decision on Bochy, allowing him to leave for the Giants despite having a year left on his contract. San Diego had just won back-to-back National League West titles.

Bochy was well-regarded back then, but he's turned into a manager with Hall of Fame credentials, having piloted the Giants to three World Series titles in the past five years. But those are the unintended consequences of the decisions club executives sometimes make.

Black said his mentors as a player and coach shaped the person he is today. Managers like Dick Howser in Kansas City and Roger Craig in San Francisco. Scioscia, of course, was a major influence.

Black and managers Joe Maddon of the Cubs and Ron Roenicke of the Brewers all coached on the 2002 Angels, who won the only World Series in club history. Maddon and Roenicke are still among Black's best friends in the game. Angels owner Arte Moreno is one of Black's most avid admirers, and for good reason.

"First and foremost, anybody in a leadership position has to be himself," Black said. "Because if you're not, people in any profession will see right through that. What I try to do is respect, not only our players, but everyone in our organization. I know everyone is working together for one goal, and for me, I think sturdiness and consistency are good traits for a leader."

That's why Black's not only a great players' manager, but his coaches love working with him. Black inherited pitching coach Darren Balsley and third-base coach Glenn Hoffman from Bochy's crew. That's how far back they go. Mark Kotsay, the latest hitting coach, played his last two seasons under Black, and as Middlebrooks said, "He's fresh out of the game and faced a lot of guys that we play against, and that helps out a lot."

Dave Roberts joined the Padres as first-base coach after the 2010 season and has been Black's bench coach the past two years. In that capacity, Roberts said, during games San Diego's dugout is a haven of free-flowing ideas.

"It makes coming to the ballpark a pleasure," said Roberts, whose 10-year playing career as an outfielder included a brief two-season stint with the Padres in 2005-06 under Bochy. "It's a great game, but to have a manager you respect makes it even that more enjoyable. I've learned an amazing amount of baseball from Buddy."

To be sure, the Padres had a .477 winning percentage under Black entering Sunday, lost a one-game playoff for the National League's then lone Wild Card spot to the Rockies in 2007 and were eliminated by the Giants on the final day of the 2010 season.

Otherwise, it's been a roulette wheel of players, and to his credit, Black has survived three owners, three club presidents and four general managers before the little brass ball finally nestled on red when Preller restocked the team with talent for this season. It hasn't always been thus.

"Buddy is a great leader, somebody you really want to play for," said Will Venable, who came up through San Diego's system in 2009 and is one of the last holdovers. "Even though we've had a lot of different groups in here, everyone has responded to him in the same way. It's a tribute to him and that's why he's been around so long. People like to be led by him."

The Padres are barely a month into the season, and there are bound to be plenty of twists and turns, like their recent streak of seven losses in eight games. But no matter how the season transpires, these are the attributes that must be considered whether San Diego makes it to the playoffs -- or not.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.