Price aiming to follow lead of successful skippers
First-year Reds manager, former pitcher credits Farrell, Black for paving way
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The rocky road for former pitching coaches to become Major League managers has been smoothed and paved recently by the likes of Boston's John Farrell and San Diego's Bud Black.
Black has developed a solid reputation during seven years of managing the Padres, and the Red Sox came back from oblivion to win the World Series this past fall in Farrell's first season there.
"It was a great turnaround [for the Red Sox], because they had struggled so greatly the year before," said Bryan Price, the latest pitcher to join the ranks of big league managers when he was named by the Reds to replace Dusty Baker this past Oct. 22, just before Farrell's club began to take apart the Cardinals in a six-game World Series.
"That's a really neat story. It's really great, and for people like me even more so, because I don't have any Major League credentials as a player. The job he's done and the job Bud Black has done have created opportunities for someone like me. I really believe that."
Not only did Farrell win in his first trip as a manager to the World Series, but he also made a little bit of history. He was only the fifth former pitcher to manage a team to a World Series title, and the first in 25 years. To underscore what a remarkable statistic that was, last year marked the 109th World Series.
The first former pitcher to do it, ironically enough, was Eddie Dyer with the Cards over the Red Sox in 1946. The others were Bob Lemon with the Yankees in 1978, Dallas Green with the Phillies in '80 and Tommy Lasorda with the Dodgers in 1981 and '88. That quartet accumulated 242 wins as pitchers in the Majors. Lemon, the Hall of Fame right-hander who played his entire 13-year career for the Indians, had 207 of them.
Black was a left-hander of some acclaim, winning 121 games in 15 seasons. Farrell pitched with Black on the Indians and had his career deteriorate after eight seasons and 36 wins because of an injury that led to Tommy John surgery.
Price never made the Major League grade, winning 31 games in five Minor League seasons, a span that was also interrupted when he missed the entire 1987 season for his own left elbow surgery.
Like Black with the Angels and Farrell with the Red Sox, Price had his stints as a pitching coach with Seattle, Arizona and Cincinnati before taking full control of the Reds.
Not only is he a former pitcher, but Price faces the double whammy of being one without any big league playing experience.
"You know what? I can tell you this: as a pitching coach for 14 years, I honestly can say it never created a problem," Price said. "I thought about this when I got hired in Seattle. I thought I'd have guys who would challenge me because I didn't play in the Majors. But never one single time in my coaching career has anyone ever said: 'What do you know? You don't know at all what it's like in my situation to pitch in the Major Leagues.' So I don't anticipate that. I don't think that's where the concern should be."
The concern is pulling the most out of a Reds team that needs to make it back to the playoffs and ascend to the World Series. Despite playing .524 ball in six years under Baker, since 2010, Cincinnati has been knocked out twice in the National League Division Series and last year by Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card Game.
The Reds were 90-72 last year under Baker, but management determined that a different voice was needed in the clubhouse, and that voice belonged to Price, Baker's pitching coach since 2010.
"Everyone is different," said right fielder Jay Bruce, who is a member of the core of returning veterans this season. "Dusty was a huge part of this organization. He did a great job here. We just didn't win enough. That's the bottom line. But Bryan is just tremendous. He did a great job of forging relationships outside of the pitching staff during his tenure here with Dusty as the manager.
"It really helped that we knew Bryan. He made it a point to get to know everyone. That definitely helps with the transition."
Whether a former pitcher or not, any manager needs good players to work with. Like Brad Ausmus, the new manager in Detroit, and Matt Williams, who replaced Davey Johnson in Washington, Price has the personnel. Ausmus was a catcher by trade, Williams a third baseman. All three are first-year managers. All three are expected to win.
Price has All-Stars Bruce, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in the middle of the lineup, plus good starting pitching and a lights-out closer in 100-mph-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman.
"I think [a big] part of it depends on what kind of ballclub you inherit. Larry Rothschild was the first manager for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays," Price said about another pitching coach who is back in his old job with the Yankees. "We don't know if he was a great manager or not, because he didn't have the players. He didn't have any pitching, I can tell you that. They couldn't pitch. They could score some runs. But what are your expectations when you're with a new franchise?"
Quite low, but even so, Rothschild was dismissed early in his and the club's fourth season with a .411 winning percentage. He hasn't managed since.
Price knows there will be a steep learning curve, particularly when it comes to dealing with the offense.
"Look, I don't have any credibility as a hitting coach or an outfielder or a basestealer," Price said. "I'm not going to go into a cage and work with a hitter, go out in the outfield and talk about footwork on a base hit to center. Those are things that I'm just never going to do. But I want to be around. I want to see it. I want to be a part of it. I want to understand what guys are doing. But it won't be me who's going into the cage saying, 'Hey, line up your knuckles or get your elbows up.'"
It's a work in progress. At 51, Price is another manager on training wheels. The real question is how much time it will take for those training wheels to come off. With Farrell, it took two mediocre years managing the Blue Jays as a preface to his success with the Red Sox. Black, who was plucked off the tree of Angels manager Mike Scioscia, has already begun to sprout his own acolytes with former Padres bench coach Rick Renteria now managing the Cubs.
Regarding Price? The jury is not only still out, it hasn't even been remanded yet.
"It's all going to come out in the wash, anyhow," Price said. "Hopefully 10 years from now, the Reds will have won a bunch of World Series and I was a great choice, but we'll see."
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.