SCOTTSDALE – For anyone who questions the idea that things happen for a reason – if you accept the events that life presents – Bud Black is the answer.
Two years into his Rockies experience, Black has guided the Rockies to back-to-back post-season appearances for the first time in the history of the franchise, and as a recognition for that effort, the Rockies on Tuesday announced Black had signed a three-year extension, which will take him through the 2022 season.
The idea seems so natural now.
But it wasn’t.
There were twists and turns along the way that led to Black even becoming a manager, much less with the Rockies.
At the end of 15-year playing career, Black became a special assistant to the general manager in Cleveland, having the ambition that he would someday assume a front-office job, which would allow him to continue his relationship with the game in his post-playing days.
His skill set was such that following the 2002 season, when then-Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd was looking for someone to step into the No. 2 job in the Rockies baseball hierarchy, Black was at the top of the list of candidates. O'Dowd had become acquainted with Black when O'Dowd was in the Indians' front office, and Black pitched for Cleveland and then became a special assistant.
So, O’Dowd had an emissary reach out to Black and see if he would have interest in making the move.
Black said he still had thoughts of a front office future, but he had been a surprise hire as the pitching coach of the Angels for the 2000 season, and he was still riding the emotional high from having been a part of an Angels team that won the 2002 World Series.
He finally left the Angels after the 2007 season, but not for a non-uniformed job. He was hired as the manager of the San Diego Padres.
It was a nine-year run that ended during the 2015 season, putting Black in baseball limbo.
Managing had become something he thoroughly enjoyed. He had hopes of becoming the manager of the Nationals in 2016, but management only offered him a one-year deal, which didn’t seem to be a very strong show of confidence, and he took a special assistant job with the Angels.
And that concern was proven correct when the Nationals did break down and give Dusty Baker a two-year deal to become their manager, only to fire him after he took the team to back-to-back division titles.
He returned to the Angels in a special assistant role in 2016, but the next year, Black was back in uniform. He was hired to manager the Rockies, a decision that has been a blessing for both Black and the franchise.
“Buddy seamlessly became a part of our leadership fabric, and our organization is better for it,” said general manager Jeff Bridich.
Bridich later added, “There is a consistent calmness (with Black) to be able to breathe and calm things down in the face of fires. There’s a lack of panic.”
Black’s personality creates a baseball comfort food. It has allowed him to oversee a complete change in the mindset of Rockies pitchers. He has gone with youth and he has emphasized that it’s about pitching in a baseball game, ignoring the location.
It’s hard to argue with the results. Of the 368 games played by the Rockies with Black as the manager – including the post-season – 335 of them have been started by pitchers who have never pitched at the big-league level with another team. The only exceptions came in 2017 by Tyler Chatwood, now with the Cubs.
Last year, in fact, every starter the Rockies used from Opening Day until being swept by the Brewers in the NLDS had never thrown a big-league pitch for another organization. And even with that DNA, the Rockies starting pitchers – none of whom had even celebrated a 30th birthday – combined to lead National League teams in innings pitched by a rotation.
"A lot of guys lean on him for knowledge,” said Kyle Freeland, who in his second big-league season in 2018 finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. “He’s always looking to learn more about us and learn more about the game and teach us in the right ways.
"He helps you think in a different way, not like a one-way-street kind of way. Think about a hitter or a situation or anything in a game of baseball in a different aspect. Him being able to do that opens more doors mentally to attack hitters, attack this game and be creative on the field.”
And hitters don’t feel ignored.
“His demeanor, his energy, it’s a different vibe,” said third baseman Nolan Arenado. “Nothing against Walt (Weiss, who Black replaced as manager). I love him.”
“He brought that feel for pitchers,” Arenado said. “The Colorado Rockies needed a very pitching-minded person. We need our pitchers to be good for us to win.”
Along the way, however, he also makes position players feel a part of the team.
“He has a good understanding of position players,” said Arenado. “He’s open to listening.”