A visibly hurt Brewers general manager Doug Melvin spent time with reporters this afternoon discussing the team’s decision to part with manager Ken Macha after a second consecutive losing season. You can tell this stuff hurts him.
Here’s some of what Melvin had to say:
“We didn’t win here,” Melvin said. “We didn’t meet our expectations. Whether our expectations are realistic or not, that’s probably what we have to look at. … I think he understood.
“When we brought him in here, we brought him in because he has a winning record. He still has the sixth-best winning percentage of any of the current managers in the game today,” Melvin said. “So he’s had a lot of success in his career.
“But obviously we’ve raised the bar since we won in 2008, and we didn’t meet those expectations. It’s not always the manager’s fault, but sometimes they’re the ones who get blamed.”
Melvin is certainly aware of the problems that dragged-down the Brewers in 2010. They got off to a very poor start in April and May, got little from veteran free agent additions Doug Davis and LaTroy Hawkins and then skewed very young in the second half.
“I thought [Macha] did the best that he could under the circumstances,” Melvin said. “He played right down to the last game to try to win every game that he could. That’s what good managers do, and he’s a professional about it.”
Melvin wouldn’t say when he decided a change was necessary. He also declined to say anything about the futures of the team’s coaching staff because he had yet to speak individually with those men. Pitching coach Rick Peterson is the only one of Macha’s coaches under contract for 2011.
Asked specifically whether bench coach Willie Randolph, a finalist for the Brewers’ managerial opening in 2002 and again in 2008, would again be considered, Melvin said, “I’d rather wait until I talk to the coaching staff.”
As Melvin was weighing the decision, what went into it?
“There’s a lot of things involved — wins and losses come into play,” Melvin said. “Your ballclub — are they a young club? A veteran club? Working with coaching staffs. Managers’ jobs are so much tougher in the big leagues. When you’re managing in the Minor Leagues, you’re managing a pitching coach and a hitting coach. Two guys. When you’re managing in the big leagues, a guy’s got a first base coach, he’s got a third base coach, he’s got a bench coach, he’s got a pitching coach, he’s got a bullpen coach, he’s got a hitting guy, a video coordinator. He’s got to meet with the trainers every day. He’s got to meet with the media every day. He’s got his talk show every day. The GM goes down and bugs him every day. Ownership has issues that maybe have to be discussed through the GM. And then you have to deal with player issues. So there’s a lot that goes on for a manager. It’s not just sitting down and making up a lineup. With the statistical stuff today, it’s a lot more detailed job. It’s a lot more detailed than you can imagine.”
Melvin would not say much about Macha’s relationships with stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder other than, “that’s something I can use myself as a learning experience. … I think those kind of things happen with any manager on any ballclub.”
Macha turned 60 during the team’s final homestand, and he was leading a team that had no regular starting position players older than 28. Was there some sort of generational gap?
“Bobby Cox is 69. Charlie Manuel is 67. Bruce Bochy is 55,” Melvin said. “The youngest manager of the eight postseason teams is Joe Girardi, and he has a $200 million payroll. Everybody else is 53 years of age and older. They’re probably all old enough to be fathers of today’s players.
“If that’s an issue, then I think it’s an issue that players have to understand, too. Look at all of those managers going to postseason, they’re all experienced guys. They’re all hardcore, down to earth, baseball guys, very similar to Ken. Today’s players are a little bit different, I’ve always said that. … I know the NBA goes to a lot of hiring of young head coaches. In baseball, you look at the experience of some of the guys. Was there a communication gap there? There might have been.”
Melvin plans to take his time hiring the next Brewers manager. He wouldn’t say whether previous big league experience was a prerequisite or if he would seek somebody fresh.
“That’s what we’re going through right now,” Melvin said. “We’re discussing that. There are a lot of qualities involved with a manager. Do you want an older guy? A younger guy? A proven guy? Obviously, to get a guy who’s won more games than Ken Macha is going to be tough, with him being sixth on the list. That’s going to be hard to find.”
For many outside the organization, Macha’s dismissal was a foregone conclusion. But for Melvin, it was very personal, and he was visibly distraught as he addressed reporters on Monday outside a party suite dedicated to the ’82 Brewers. He showed similar emotion after letting go manager Ned Yost with 12 games left in the ’08 regular season.
“I’ve been a GM for 15 years and I’ve only let two managers go,” Melvin said. “I talked to [Reds GM] Walt Jocketty, and I don’t think he’s ever fired a manager in his 15 years. [New D-backs GM] Kevin Towers has only done it once. There’s [something to having] stability. People want to know why the Minnesota Twins have had success, they have a lot of stability. They’ve had two managers in 30 years. …
“Ken came in in a tough situation. He came in after the team won for the first time in 25 years. I told him to take on a couple of the coaches that we had. A lot of times, a manager gets to pick all of their coaches. So he came into a little bit of a tough situation, and he understood that.
“I think he did the best he could. We had a $90 million payroll, but really it was $70 million because [Jeff] Suppan and [Billy] Hall weren’t here. I take responsibility for those kinds of things when it comes to player decisions. We’ll have to build up from here and see where we go.”
Is there a timetable to identify Macha’s replacement?
“Not really,” Melvin said. “I want to go through the process. I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and go over it. I don’t think it’s going to be something that takes place in the next 10 days or two weeks.”
Melvin was traveling to Phoenix on Tuesday to address the change with the Brewers’ player development staff there. He’ll then convene his pro scouts for four days of organizational meetings in Arizona, a process of reviewing the Brewers’ own players, looking at other teams’ rosters for trade purposes and analyzing the pool of free agents. Melvin has said he does not expect to be active in free agency this winter.
A final thought from the GM:
“He did best he could,” Melvin said. “Did he have the best talent out there? The team is not as talented as the 2008 team. We haven’t got to that point. I told Mark [Attanasio, the team's principal owner] that we have to get a little more talented.”