The way Bud Black figured it, now he wasn’t the only one who had to answer the questions. Finally, there was someone else in his fraternity.
When Black was hired by the San Diego Padres in 2007, he was one of a kind: the only former pitching coach among the 30 major league managers. Then, in 2010, longtime friend John Farrell was named manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Now there were two.
As Farrell said, “It was almost a passing of the baton, in a way.”
Though Farrell has moved on from the Blue Jays — he was hired last month to manage the Red Sox — he remains part of an exclusive group. While baseball executives are happy to give their clubs over to former first base coaches and bench coaches, former hitting coaches and broadcasters, they have proven wary of hiring pitching coaches.
It’s not entirely clear why. There are theories. All that’s certain is that, in general, pitching coaches remain pitching coaches, and don’t often get a chance to move up to the top spot. They are pigeonholed, told to stay within their difficult specialty.
“I think, a lot of times, once they get out of their playing career, the focus of uniform personnel who are ex-pitchers sort of channels to the pitching coach side,” said Black, the 2010 National League Manager of the Year. “Not the managerial side.”
Because of lack of interest, self-selection, or a bias among general managers, very few get the call. Just 16 managers in baseball history, including Farrell, have come from the ranks of pitching coaches, according to David Vincent of SABR and Retrosheet.
And even fewer win.
For every Bud Black or Wilbert Robinson (who won two pennants at the helm of the Brooklyn Robins in the dead ball era), there are more Joe Kerrigans or Ray Millers, men whose talents at working through pitching mechanics didn’t lead to success as a manager.
Kerrigan and fellow former pitching coach Larry Rothschild were fired as managers in 2001. Since then, only Black and Farrell have made the transition.
“This is a game that is steeped in tradition, which is a great thing,” Farrell said. “And yet, maybe one of those traditions might be that managers [jobs] go to former position players of all types.”
And not to former pitching coaches, who are seen by many as specialists whose skills don’t always translate to the broader job of managing.
So it’s telling that, when Red Sox GM Ben Cherington explained why the team was so taken with Farrell that it negotiated a trade with the Blue Jays to get him, he said, “In John’s case, we see someone who has been more than a pitching coach.”
Focus leads to fear
Former Padres GM Kevin Towers recalled watching Angels broadcasts and seeing the camera pan to manager Mike Scioscia. There was always another figure there, Black.
“It was Mike Scioscia and Buddy Black, kind of standing there hand-in-hand,” said Towers, who hired Black for the Padres. “I thought all those years of being around Mike, talking the game around Mike, he probably absorbed quite a bit of managerial knowledge in doing so. Probably no different than John was with Terry Francona.”
So even though he was only responsible for the 12 men on his pitching staff, perhaps Black wasn’t as insulated as most pitching coaches appear to be — a common argument against hiring them to manage.
“The fear, probably, for most executives is that he’s probably got a better feel for pitching, for making pitching moves, but he’s only been used to managing 12 players,” Towers said. “Where a manager has to manage the game, manage the staff.”
Of course, having a feel for the pitching staff might just be the most important aspect of the game for a manager. It’s something many managers struggle with, especially those who haven’t worked closely with a staff before.
And it’s something that a former pitching coach comes with, already installed.
“Who better to handle a bullpen than a guy who had worked in the bullpen, worked in the rotation, guys who did that for a livelihood?” said Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, one of the few pitching coaches whose name comes up in managerial discussions.
There is a single-mindedness that comes with being a pitcher, an ability to ignore everything but that catcher’s mitt.
“Pitchers, you have this little alley that’s 60 feet, 6 inches away,” Maddux said. “And that’s 90 percent of your focus. Your livelihood is what happens in front of you. Sometimes the rest of the field doesn’t get seen.”
When those pitchers become pitching coaches, and then potential managers, that singular focus can be a concern for a GM about to give over his team to a former pitching coach. General managers want to see a greater depth of experience.Continued...