"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, 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."
Macha had what he called an amicable farewell meeting with Melvin at Miller Park on Monday. After the 45-minute sit-down over coffee, Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash helped Macha load up a rented SUV for the drive home to Pittsburgh.
"I don't know if that's a good sign or a bad sign," Macha joked. "Maybe they wanted me out of town."
The Brewers went 157-167 in their two seasons under Macha, who was given a two-year contract in October 2008 and had an option year added to his deal at the end of the '09 season.
He inherited a team that had won the National League Wild Card in 2008 behind CC Sabathia, but Sabathia moved on via free agency and left a void in the starting rotation that the Brewers couldn't fill. They won 80 games in 2009 and 77 games in 2010.
"I tried to do what's right," Macha said. "I think if you're sitting there worrying about, 'What's this guy going to think?' it's not going to work. You come to the ballpark, study what you've got there, put out the best lineup and do what you think is the right thing. If you win enough games, then you're going to be there."
Melvin wouldn't say when he decided that a managerial 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.
Melvin, who still has two years left on his own contract, plans to take his time in choosing the next Brewers manager.
"Ken came into a tough situation," Melvin said. "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."
Melvin will spend the winter trying to improve a pitching staff that ranked next-to-last in the National League with a 4.83 ERA in 2009 and moved up only one spot in 2010 to 4.58. In his morning meeting with Macha, Melvin expressed regret that Doug Davis and LaTroy Hawkins did not work out as free agent signings and conceded the team was "at a deficit," Macha said, because of that.
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 also a sort of generational gap?
"Bobby Cox is 69. Charlie Manuel is 67. Bruce Bochy is 55," Melvin said, referring to the playoff-bound managers of the Braves, Phillies and Giants. "The youngest manager of the eight postseason teams is [Yankees skipper] 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."
Macha was particularly touched by a line of "10 or so" players who stopped by the visiting manager's office at Great American Ball Park following Sunday's season finale to say goodbye. Among them were pitcher Randy Wolf, the prized free agent pick-up who struggled early in the season, third baseman Casey McGehee, who thanked Macha for giving him a shot to start last spring, and Manny Parra, who thanked Macha for sticking with him.
"I felt good about that," Macha said. "You hope that you can help people out and get their careers on the right track."
Macha insisted there were no hard feelings.
"Look, I want this to be as positive as it can be," he said. "I enjoyed working for Doug. I got to know him better through this process, and he was great. And I've said this a bunch: the people in the City of Milwaukee were tremendous. That's a tremendous baseball city, and I wish people understood how supportive they are. I don't understand why more free agents wouldn't want to come there. You've got a packed house every night, and everywhere you go the people were encouraging you. That was tremendous.
"Any time you get into a situation [where you're let go] you sit back and say, 'How can I make myself better?' Sure, there's a couple of things I would do a little differently. But not a whole lot."