Macha on his contract: "Not worried about it"
Brewers manager Ken Macha knew the questions about his job security were coming, and he answered them Tuesday with the same calm expression he’s worn on the bench throughout the team’s disappointing season.
Macha insisted that he’s not worried that he’s only under contract through next season, and called his first year working with Milwaukee’s tight-knit core of players, “a growing experience.”
“I’m not worried about it at all,” Macha said of his contract situation. “My third year [as A's manager, in 2005] I went a whole season without another year on the other end. At one point, we were 15 games under .500 that year. …
“I’ve got a contract for next season. That’s the way I look at it.”
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has said only that Macha, and the rest of the staff, will be evaluated after the season.
Macha spoke before the second of four games at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, a matchup of underperforming clubs that continues Wednesday night. Both teams find themselves looking up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who bolstered their offense with the midseason addition of Matt Holliday and then ran away with the National League Central.
For Macha, it’s meant his first non-contending September in 13 years as a manager or bench coach. Eight of those years were in Oakland, including four as skipper in which the A’s averaged 92 wins and twice went to the postseason.
“I’ve got a little different animal here than I did in Oakland,” Macha said. “In Oakland, I had been there four years [before moving to the manager's seat] so all of the players kind of knew what to expect from me. This has been a little bit of a growing experience here as far as the relationship with the players.”
There have been trying moments on and off the field. On it, the Brewers lost leadoff man Rickie Weeks in early May just as it seemed he was finally tapping into his long-awaited potential. The Brewers’ starting rotation floundered after Dave Bush and then Jeff Suppan made extended trips to the disabled list, forcing the Brewers to dip to the bullpen and the Minor Leagues for help.
Off the field, Macha said he has tried to keep open lines of communication with players. That has presented its own challenges.
“I think on any club you have one-third of [players] who really enjoy playing for you, another third just out there playing and then you’ve got another third that’s probably disappointed with playing time or how they’re being used or pitched or whatever,” Macha said. “That’s just how it is. This is professional baseball. They’re getting paid a lot of money to go out and perform, regardless of liking somebody or not liking somebody.”
Meanwhile, a manager who is new to an organization, “has a lot of learning to do as far as personalities. I’m still learning. These guys are a fairly tight-knit group. The players have come up together and everything and they’re used to their structure. Sometimes their structure is not exactly the structure that I’d use.”
Case in point: The running game. Players have grumbled openly to reporters about Macha putting the brakes on stolen base attempts this season, and Macha in turn has pointed out the instances in which runners have given away key outs. During the Brewers’ three-game series in Pittsburgh, for example, the Brewers made outs on the bases in the first inning of each game with Prince Fielder due to hit. The Brewers were swept by the Pirates.
When Macha installed a team-wide stop sign for the opener of a series in Washington, Fielder clubbed a first-inning home run.
“It’s a growing thing,” Macha said. “I get to the stadium early. Today, I was here at 12:30 [for a 7 p.m. CT game]. The door is wide open. Anybody can come in. I’ve had one player in there about seven times this year.”
Macha did not name the player, but it’s clear that he has had a number of one-on-one talks with All-Star left fielder Ryan Braun. Braun was perturbed on Monday in Chicago and last week in Milwaukee when Macha left him out of the starting lineup.
Fielder took advantage of the open door policy on July 18, when Braun was out of the lineup for a game against the Reds. Macha posted a lineup with Fielder in the three-hole, and Fielder told the skipper he would rather remain hitting cleanup. Macha agreed to make the change.
“I want them to tell me what’s going on with them. I’m there to help them,” Macha said. “The last time I had a player in there, I explained to him that the coaching staff and the manager were all on your side. We want nothing but you guys to become excellent players and improve every day. We’re here to help you. …
“There’s always going to be some guys that don’t like the way you do it.”
Macha told a story from the early years of his coaching career, in Montreal under onetime Brewers manager Buck Rodgers. The Expos had a disappointing season and Macha was surprised that Rodgers never closed the clubhouse doors for a good old fashioned rant.
When he asked about it after the season, Rodgers explained that he would yell and scream over lack of effort, but not lack of results. The Expos were playing hard, Rodgers said, and that’s all he could ask for.
“That’s a man right there, who can do that,” Macha said. “The losses ultimately come back to me.”