Brewers players embrace Macha era

Brewers players embrace Macha era

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers reliever Brian Shouse was surprised to hear that some Oakland players had problems with former A's manager Ken Macha before Macha's 2006 ouster. Shouse played for Macha eight years earlier at Triple-A Pawtucket in the Boston chain, and his memories of Macha were of a "player's manager."

"He's a good player's manager who will stand up for you," Shouse said Thursday, when Macha was named the new skipper of the Milwaukee Brewers. "I don't remember him being anything other than that."

When told about a news report from October 2006 that quoted a number of players, including current Brewers catcher Jason Kendall, as critical of Macha, Shouse was shocked.

"I don't know anything about what happened there in Oakland, but I just remember what he was in Triple-A when I was there," Shouse said. "I had zero problems with him. I liked him and enjoyed him, though he expected a lot from you. He expected you to play hard and do the things that you were supposed to do to be a team, not just an individual."

Brewers starter Jeff Suppan, who played for Macha in 1995 at Double-A Trenton and in 1997 at Pawtucket, had similar memories.

"I liked 'Mach,' and I remember him joking around a lot with the players," Suppan said. "Doug [Brewers general manager Doug Melvin] has made a lot of great choices for our team, so I'm sure that Macha is the right guy for this situation."

Yet Macha's relationship with players was the topic du jour on Thursday afternoon at Miller Park, where he answered a series of questions about the circumstances of his departure from Oakland before getting a single query about his future in Milwaukee.

Macha beat out former Mets manager Willie Randolph and former D-backs manager Bob Brenly for the job, signing a two-year contract to manage the Brewers. He spent the last two seasons as a Red Sox television analyst after a sudden dismissal in Oakland. He managed the A's to first- or second-place finishes in each of his four seasons.

A's GM Billy Beane cited "a disconnect" as the reason for the split, a sentiment echoed from an Oakland source who said Thursday that the real problem was between Macha and Beane, not Macha and his players. But a San Francisco Chronicle story two days after the dismissal described Macha's gloomy attitude, a perceived lack of compassion for players' injuries and, in general, his trouble communicating.

On Thursday, two years later, Macha had "a number of things to say about that."

"The job of the manager is not to be buddies with all of the players," Macha said. "You have to make very difficult decisions over the course of a year, and if you look at it from a player's perspective, my decisions as far as playing people or not playing people really have a direct impact on how much money they can make over the course of a career.

"He's a good player's manager who will stand up for you. I don't remember him being anything other than that."
-- Brian Shouse, on Ken Macha

"Sometimes, players think it's personal. It really isn't."

He offered an example from 2006, when A's outfielder Jay Payton stormed into the manager's office wondering why he was not in the lineup.

"I said, 'Well, Jay, your on-base percentage is .289. You're swinging at everything and you're all over the place. I'm not going to bury you on the bench, I'm going to play you, but you need to pick your game up a little bit,'" Macha said. "He wound up hitting .300 for me that season.

"Sometimes the view of the manager is different than the view of the player, and when you don't have a productive season, sometimes [a player] is looking for somebody to pin it on. If it's me, that's fine. I have broad shoulders."

Among the players purported to have a problem with Macha was catcher Jason Kendall, who signed a free-agent contract with the Brewers last winter and vested an option to return for 2009. Kendall seemed to criticize Macha for not always backing players.

Reached Thursday in California, Kendall said those comments were taken out of context by the newspaper. He said he called Macha in the days that followed and cleared the air.

"He's a good baseball man," said Kendall, who has played for eight different managers. "I think everything that he's done as far as his managerial record speaks for itself. You're not in a pennant race four years in a row because of luck.

"He's a good manager, in my opinion. He and the general manager didn't see eye to eye on every occasion, and those things happen."

Melvin made the call to hire Macha over Randolph, who appears to have been the runner-up. Several players expressed their trust in Melvin in supporting Macha.

"Management and ownership has a track record of making good, quality decisions," said left fielder Ryan Braun. "They have always done what's best for the organization, so whatever Doug decided to do, we all support it."

Said Shouse: "I think it's good. [Macha] is kind of a fresh face, and I know he's someone that Doug liked back in '02, when Ned [Yost] first got the job."

Shouse, who filed for free agency Thursday but said he wants to return to Milwaukee, preferably on a two-year contract, remembers Macha as the kind of manager who would "stick with his plan," even when a certain player was struggling.

"He didn't let hot-and-cold streaks phase him," Shouse said.

And Suppan seemed to counter the "gloomy" charge when he remembered Macha's dugout demeanor.

"He had these expressions that made us laugh," Suppan said. "Like when a guy made a great play, 'Mach' would say, 'What an athlete.' And it was the way he said it, his accent or whatever you want to call it, that made it funny. Guys would try to sound like him."

Macha thanks the A's for giving him his first managerial opportunity while at the same time saying he was looking forward to moving on in Milwaukee. Instead of conferring with coaches and Brewers scouts for a crash course on his new roster, Macha said he would wait to form his own opinions in Spring Training.

"I'm going to go down there and not be influenced by anyone's opinion, and watch these players myself," he said. "My job going down there is going to be to watch the club and start to evaluate these players on my own, then sit down with my coaches and try to get their opinions and see what we can do to make each player better."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.