Ian Pike 2 p.m., Dec. 7
The managers of major league baseball teams might be the most second-guessed people in the world that aren't involved in politics, network television programming, or particle physics. After each game on most days there is a manager's press conference (referred to as a presser in media terms), where the manager answers questions from media. Invariably - and especially in the case of a loss - reporters and columnists will fire critical questions at the manager, asking about certain decisions made in the game. These questions include why the manager did or didn't change pitchers at some critical point, or perhaps why the manager did or did not pinch-hit in a certain situation (including the player used or not used to pinch-hit), and so on.
Rarely are such questions meant to enlighten a positive move by the manager; most are more of a polite way of asking, "What in the hell were you thinking?!"
The manager takes heat from all sides. He can't control play on the field nor success at the plate, that's up to the players. His job is to make out a starting line-up and change players as game situations call for. He often argues calls by the umpire. He observes and takes mental notes. Apart from the game itself, he deals with the press, the front office, and the players.
Overall, it might be one of the toughest jobs ever, because potentially, it is one of the most under-appreciated jobs ever. When things go wrong for whatever reason, managers of a professional baseball team tend to be the first ones fired from the club. When things go right, the general perception is the players had everything to do with it. Managers are accountable to everyone, regardless of what managers actually control they are accountable to players, fans, the front office, and even media, it doesn't seem fair, does it? Regardless, this is what happens.
Harry Ralston Black is the manager of the San Diego Padres since 2007 and players have been calling him skipper and everyone else has been calling him by his better-known nickname, Buddy, or just Bud since way before that. Bud Black had an excellent career in major league baseball long before he decided to become a coach and then a manager. Buddy Black has a career record of 121 wins against 116 losses. He was on the starting rotation of the Kansas City Royals team in 1985 that won the World Series.
That's one awesome ring.
He was a graduate of SDSU, by the way. Finance. That's a helpful degree working for the Padres in recent years. With the Padres, you work with what you have. Small market, you mostly get what you pay for. A degree in finance can't hurt.
After SDSU, Buddy Black went on to play professional baseball.
Drafted twice out of Junior College, he declined signing until he was finished with SDSU, when he went to the Mariners in the 17th round. Buddy beat the odds, he made real good in the Royals organization. He played for several teams before hanging up his cleats. Eventually, he went on to work for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as their pitching coach.
That worked out too. Under Mike Scioscia as manager, Black went on to coach a pitching staff that won the 2002 World Series. Entering the playoffs as the wild card, the Angels beat the Giants that year. It made for a great World Series.
That's another awesome ring.
Black became the manager of the Padres in a time when the money ran out, John Moores was preparing for a divorce, and the payroll suddenly bottomed out in a small market. After a few years, the Padres fielded a competitive team, in spite of a low payroll. In 2010, with a bunch of players that no one knew on a national level, Buddy became Manager Of The Year. The Padres missed the play-offs on the last day. Ask Bud Black, he would have rather had that play-off berth. That's probably part of the reason he won manager of the year.
No ring, but still; taking odds that the third ring isn't coming at some point might not be a smart bet.
Want to second-guess this skipper as to what the starting line-up will be opening day in 2012? It's only fair to do this in advance. Anyone can win looking back, as the saying goes: hindsight is 20/20. There's a lot of spring training to go. Anything can happen. But why not?
Lead-off: Center Fielder Cameron Maybin. No-brainer. Led the club in stolen bases. Biggest problem is strike-outs, but that's just aggressive at-bats. You have to plug him in there, he's still playing with that chip on his shoulder.
2nd: Third Baseman Chase Headley. Buddy batted short stop Jason Bartlett in this spot a lot last year, but that could and likely should change. Headley's average and lack of power plays well here. Maybin gets on, Headley can move him.
3rd: First Baseman Yonder Alonso/Jesus Guzman. Assuming that spring training closes with this tandem, it makes perfect sense. While Alonzo lacks experience, and Buddy might not wish to put this pressure on him early, he should see what the Padres got in that trade. Guzman is a proven commodity.
4th: Right or Left Fielder Carlos Quentin. He's the only guy that rates a chance to go yard at every at-bat. He'll be batting clean-up most of the time. It doesn't take a genius to plug him in here. And he'll do well protecting the 5-hole.
5th: Catcher Nick Hundley. He's the guy opposing pitchers don't want to face if they pitch around Quentin. Patience and power. The ability to hit the ball the other way. He can shorten his swing. Tons to like in this spot.
6th: Second Baseman Orlando Hudson. He has a lot to prove this year after a disappointing 2011. Hudson can hit, at least he could in years past. The 6-hole seems the right spot to begin the season.
7th: Left/Right Fielder Will Venable/Chris Denorfia/Kyle Blanks. This spot is up for grabs, with Venable likely on the inside track and Denorfia getting a chance now and then. Venable has speed while Denorfia shows consistency. Either can ultimately be plugged in anywhere in the lineup after opening day. Kyle Blanks is a monster, but figures to begin the season in AAA unless there's an injury or something else odd happens in Peoria.
8th: Short Stop Jason Bartlett. Bartlett has hit up in the lineup previously, but he doesn't deserve that this season. You hit below .250 and you get punked down to 8th in the line-up. Want up? Hit better.
9th: Pitcher Tim Stauffer. Barring injury, the Stauf will start opening day. Rally around the Stauf. Stauffer is a fine pitcher to have bat at the plate, regardless of his .148 batting average last year. He led the pitching staff with 6 runs batted in and 7 sacrifice bunts. The Stauf abides.
First casualty of spring training is back pain from Chris Denorfia. Buddy Black hasn't shut him down, but Deno's limited to the batting cage at this point. Black isn't concerned. We'll see where this goes. Aches and pains are all a part of camp, it's the first question asked in the morning presser.
Winner of last season's Fantasy Football tournament? The team of catcher Nick Hundley and pitching coach Darren Balsley, it's the third annual competition. There's even a trophy. Imagine that. Word is that Hundley had that trophy proudly displayed above his spring training locker. Why not?
(Image: Padres Manager Buddy Black)