02/18/07 3:51 PM ET
'Buddy System' is in full swing
Black begins duties as Padres chase third straight NL West title
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"He's quiet, understated," Black said of the celebrated addition to the Padres' pitching staff. "But there's a lot of dry wit to him."
Not to mention mounds of depth, experience and an inquisitive nature -- in both cases, of the future Hall of Fame pitcher and the first-time manager who will direct Maddux and Co. in 2007.
The "Buddy System" is up and running at Peoria Sports Complex, where the Padres are getting ready to pursue a third consecutive National League West title leading, they hope, to a deeper involvement in the postseason than first-round setbacks the past two seasons.
"I've never had a pitcher manager before, or a manager that pitched before," Maddux said. "I'm looking forward to this. I've always admired and respected him from the other side of the field."
They faced off once as pitchers, Black's Giants handling Maddux's Cubs in 1991. Neither pitcher had a great day at Wrigley Feld, but each has had enough successful moments -- evenings and afternoons -- to know what it takes to win over the long haul.
"With players that win in all sports, aptitude is their common bond," Black said. "I like intelligent players who have awareness, savvy, who can make in-game adjustments -- players who have the ability to make adjustments in a three-hour window. These are the types of guys I like."
On his way to 121 victories across 15 seasons, Black was that type of intensely-focused performer.
Former pitchers have a spotty history as Major League field leaders, but the early reports on Black -- successor to Bruce Bochy, the club's manager for 12 seasons -- are favorable.
"I think it's going to be huge for all of us, having him as our manager," Clay Hensley, embarking on his second season as a starter, said. "He knows the things we're going through, having been through it all as a player.
"He's got a good personality coming in for this job. He's very approachable. He came to talk to me [before Spring Training] in San Diego so we could get to know each other, and I have a real good feeling about this."
Black's feel for the dynamics of a club are rooted in his participation at every level of the game, from player to front-office understudy to pitching coach and now to man in charge, 24/7.
He grasps the need over the long, grinding 162-game schedule for even dispositions and just enough internal "playfulness," as he put it, for a balance to form.
Keeping teammates in stitches is a vital role on a tightly-knit ballclub, and this is a team with natural comics and jesters -- David Wells, Maddux, Cla Meredith, Brian Giles and brother Marcus -- capable of lightening the mood.
Timing comes into play here, Black pointed out. He has seen Wells, a man known to enjoy a good time, from a teammate's perspective, having played briefly alongside Boomer in Toronto 17 years ago.
"Some guys who are funny do it at the wrong time," Black said. "The thing about David, from what I've seen, is he'll know when the time is right to be himself. He wouldn't have played this long if there wasn't a seriousness to him, a passion for the game.
"It takes all kinds. You've got to have a lot of different personalities. It does help to have these guys who know how to keep things light at times. You also need grinders. Very seldom will you find 25 guys who are funny."
Black has been a member of World Series champions in Kansas City as a player in 1985, and in Anaheim as manager Mike Scioscia's pitching coach in 2002.
"Nothing beats being a player and winning a championship," Black said. "Anybody who has won a championship as a player and as a coach will tell you the same thing. There's no feeling like going through the fire together as a team."
Padres general manager Kevin Towers is thoroughly impressed with the new man, calling Black "a winner with great people skills, a class individual with intelligence and depth."
Those are the qualities that surfaced in the hiring process that also involved club CEO Sandy Alderson and owner John Moores after Bochy departed San Diego following a 24-year run in the organization.
Black, who worked with Scioscia for seven years, will draw from what he calls Scioscia's "sturdy" manner and "unwavering" approach. Black also keep in mind lessons learned from the late Dick Howser, Roger Craig and Dusty Baker, among other influences.
At the same time, he added, "Leadership comes in different styles. I'm going to be who I am."
Taking the reins of a club that has won back-to-back division titles carries undeniable pressure, but he has the confident look and bearing of a man who feels he can handle that in stride.
"I'm starting at the top," he said. "It's going to be a baptism under fire, getting to know the league. Hopefully, I'll be a quick study."
Black's confident look and bearing suggest he believes he can handle that in stride and make the Buddy System a success.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.