Price faces daunting task of switching from pitching coach to manager
TEMPE, Ariz. — Bryan Price is swimming in murky waters as a former pitching coach turned manager.
Maybe it is a prejudicial issue among general managers that pitching coaches don’t make good managers. Maybe it is because when a team has a good pitching coach it doesn’t want to lose him as a pitching coach.
Whatever the case, Price is only the 17th former pitching coach to move from the coaches office to the managerial chair as the new manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
It might be a trend. He joins San Diego’s Bud Black and Boston’s John Farrell as current pitching coaches-turned-manager and Farrell won the World Series last year with the Red Sox.
There were two pitching coaches managing in 2001, Joe Kerrigan in Boston and Larry Rothschild, former Cincinnati pitching coach, in Tampa Bay. Both were fired in 2001, and as Price said about Rothschild, "He never had a chance. He didn’t have the players. He had no pitching."
So there were no pitching coach turned managers in the majors until San Diego hired Bud Black in 2007 and Price said, "Bud and I are close friends and I’ve talked to him a lot about this job."
Price laughed as he applied another stickie note to the mounting number on his office desk and said, "It is all going to come out in the wash. Hopefully, 10 years from now we can say the Reds have won a bunch of World Series and I was a great choice. We’ll see."
The Red Sox finished last in 2012 and hired Farrell away from Toronto, where he was pitching coach, something of which Price took note.
"It was a great turnaround in Boston because they had struggled so greatly the year before," said Price. "It’s a neat story and the jobs that Bud Black and John Farrell have done has created opportunities for someone like me. I really believe that."
It’s a neat story and the jobs that Bud Black and John Farrell have done has created opportunities for someone like me. I really believe that.
The other issue, if it can be called that, is that Price was a minor-league pitcher who never made it to the majors.
"No, I don’t have any major-league credentials as a player," he said. "But I was a pitching coach for 14 years and it never created a problem. I can honestly say — and I have thought about this issue that guys would challenge me because I never played in the major leagues — but it has never come up, not a single time, where a player said, ‘What do you know? You don’t know what it is like to be in my situation to pitch in the major leagues.’"
And yet Price was a major-league pitching coach for 14 years with Seattle, Arizona and the last four with the Reds.
So Price is not concerned about it, especially not from his position players, because he knows his limitations and it is why he carefully selected his coaching staff.
"I like this club, I like the Reds and I have a palpable sense of enjoyment of being part of this," he said. "I know it is impossible to keep 25 players happy all season long.
"I don’t have any credibility as a hitting coach, or an outfielder or a base-stealer," he said. "That’s why my coaches are so important. I can talk about pitching and situational baseball and how best to use our personnel. But I’ll never go into the batting cage and work with a hitter or go to the outfield and talk about footwork."
Price, though, plans to listen and absorb, be an integral part of his entire surroundings as the leader of the pack.
"I want to be around it, see it, be a part of what guys are doing," he said. "That’s something I should know, know what we’re doing to help a guy who is struggling. But it won’t be me going into the cage to say, ‘Hey, line up your knuckles or get your elbow up."
Price, too, was an observant guy while serving as pitching coach for the Reds under the man he replaced, Dusty Baker. And he learned a few things, including one unorthodox approach.
I like this club, I like the Reds and I have a palpable sense of enjoyment of being part of this
There was a game in 2010, when Dusty Baker was manager and Bryan Price was the pitching coach, that the Reds led by 9-3 in Atlanta going into the bottom of the ninth.
The Braves, though, rallied and won it with seven runs, finished off by a walk-off grand slam home run by Brooks Conrad that hit the top of left fielder Laynce Nix’s glove and went over the fence.
It was a devastating, dastardly defeat. It was one you don’t forget, especially when the team has to leave town immediately and think about it for the entire flight to Cleveland.
Price related how Dusty Baker handled that defeat and how Price learned something from it.
"The best thing that happened was that after we flew to Cleveland Dusty called a mandatory meeting of all the players and coaches in the lobby bar (of the Marriott Key Hotel). Everyone had to get a drink and say, ‘OK, that one is over with. We have to back to work tomorrow.’ And we beat Cleveland the next day and got the bad taste out of our mouths that was left over that the alcohol didn’t kill."
Asked if that was a learning event for him, Price said, "Yeah, it was. You don’t want to get used to accepting losses like that, but you have to learn to be resilient, get past them. They do happen. They stink when they do, but you just can’t let them stay with you. And certainly winning the next day makes a difference.
"What Dusty did was a great idea — a message not to let that game carry over to tomorrow. We’re beyond it and it only counts as one loss and let’s start over tomorrow. Without that there was just no way to let it go. Nobody could let it go."
Price hopes his team never blows a six-run lead in the ninth and he can avoid hotel barroom team meetings.