Macha all eyes forward as new skipper
Former A's manager prepared for challenges at Brewers' helm
PHOENIX -- An A's fan leaned over the railing before Ken Macha's first Cactus League game as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and said with a smile that he looked awful in navy blue.Macha has been getting used to the new color himself after two years in a suit and tie in the Red Sox's broadcast studio and then eight years before that in the green and gold of Oakland. But there are plenty of parallels between Macha's new managerial assignment and his old one, some of which came up in the manager's office on a recent Arizona morning. MLB.com: What are the particular challenges of inheriting a team coming off success?
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Macha: It's not unlike taking over the A's [in 2003]. We had been to the playoffs three straight years. The difference is my knowledge of the players, because I had been bench coach in Oakland for four years before managing. Here, I've got to gain some knowledge of the players, what they can and can't do.But if you talk to anybody, they would rather take a team that has expectations and has the talent level that is here in Milwaukee than a team that is starting fresh and trying to work its way up. Our challenge right now is that we had a pretty solid pitching staff there in Oakland, and we're looking to build that here. MLB.com: That brings up your fans' chief concern: How do you replace the contributions of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets? Macha: I always go back to the experience of when [Oakland traded Mark] Mulder and [Tim] Hudson and it was like, 'What are we going to do now?' Well, we had the one guy who had been there -- [Barry] Zito -- remain as our No. 1 starter and he had pretty much a .500 year, but Rich Harden improved dramatically. If I'm going to put pitchers in those categories, to me, Dave Bush is going to be Rich Harden this year. He pitched .500 ball last year, and I'm expecting him, based on his stuff and how he goes about things and his WHIP, to go a few games over. Then, in Oakland we had Dan Haren and Joe Blanton who were basically rookies. You can put [Yovani] Gallardo and [Manny] Parra in those places here. And then we have [Braden] Looper and [Jeff] Suppan, veteran guys. So we have some pieces in place, and how the young guys progress is going to determine how we do this year. We have to help move these young guys along and give them confidence and make them understand that they have good enough stuff to be successful Major League pitchers. MLB.com: Are you the same manager today as on your first day in Oakland? Macha: The thing that went through my mind on the first day in Oakland, after 13 years as a coach in the Major Leagues and four years as a Minor League manager, was, 'Are you ready for this?' I think I had as much preparation as anybody for that job, but you still have a little doubt in your mind ... and I think the people who say they don't are full of it. Having some success doing the job, it's a little more comforting today. You kind of learn what works and what doesn't work. MLB.com: Before you accepted this job, you talked with some friends in the scouting community. What did that say about the Brewers? Macha: They love the position players and they spoke very highly of Gallardo and Parra. They all felt that I was extremely lucky to be put into a position where the chance for success was high. MLB.com: How hard did you push for the Brewers to sign closer Trevor Hoffman? Macha: I left that to Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's general manager since September 2002]. We went to the Winter Meetings and they had a number of names on the board. I told Doug as we were looking that I would give my opinion, but he has a pretty good track record of finding somebody to be successful in that closing role. Dan Kolb, Francisco Cordero, Salomon Torres. I'm not going to mess with Doug's success in that area. MLB.com: What's your level of disappointment about the spate of injuries in camp? Macha: I've used this quote before: Injuries are like your wife; you have absolutely no control over it. Injuries are going to happen, and for you to get completely bent out of shape, it does no good. Zero. Your focus has to be on the guys who can get out and do it. In 2003, we were in Toronto and Mulder was basically done for the season and we were three or four games behind the Mariners [in the American League West]. I had a meeting with the players and I said, 'I love Mulder, but we have 50 games left and we can't worry about Mulder being hurt. That has to be the last thing we think about.' Injuries, they don't bother me because it's like getting upset about a rain delay. You just have to deal with them when they happen. MLB.com: You're easy to characterize as honest in your discussions with the media. Has that led to any interesting discussions between you and a player in this office? Macha: I think we're still in our honeymoon stage right now, so we'll see how that goes. I was taught by my mentor [former Brewers, Expos and Angels manager Buck Rodgers] a long time ago that you might as well tell everybody the truth. You know what the reason for that is? It's so you're not sitting there like, 'Now, what did I tell this guy two weeks ago?' You might as well tell him the truth. I think being straightforward with people means telling them that performance dictates everything. That's the nature of our business. It's like the day Jay Payton came into my office [in Oakland] upset that he wasn't in the lineup. I said, 'Jay, it's not like I was driving into the ballpark thinking of ways to screw Jay Payton today.' That's just not the case. I told him he had to play better, and if he did, he would start playing more. And he did. The same thing happened to [Jason] Kendall my last year in Oakland. I was receiving some urgings -- take that how you will -- to not bat Kendall leadoff. So I brought him in and told him the way I look at the lineup, there was no spot for him until the eighth spot. He told me, 'I like the challenge, and before the year is over I'm going to hit.' And he did. I like players who take the challenge. MLB.com: How has your working relationship with Melvin gone so far? Macha: Well, I was in here a little but after six o'clock this morning and he came walking in at about quarter to seven and we talked for about 40 minutes. He understands what's going on. He's so low-key that sometimes it's like a stealth attack. He definitely knows what's going on. He knows the things that I'm trying to get straightened out without even being here in the clubhouse. I thought to myself that this was tremendous. He can view things from my standpoint as a manager and a handler of people exactly what the situation was. I was impressed by that. MLB.com: Is it clear to you that the Cubs are the team to beat in the NL Central? Macha: I'll answer that one in a roundabout way. I think you have to get your own house in order before you look at other teams, and I said something like that to the players in my first meeting. It's how you play over 162 games that matters. The perfect examples were last year: Detroit and Tampa Bay. In the American League Central last year they were probably saying, 'Look at the Tigers. They're really good.' And where did they finish? [Last in the division.] Then you look in the AL East, where guys in Boston and New York were probably saying, 'Tampa is better, but they're a young team.' And they went to the World Series. Nobody anticipated that. What I'm saying is that every team out there can look at Tampa [Bay] and say, 'I can do this,' and the frontrunners can end up like the Tigers. But the Cubs have a very solid starting rotation and a lot of good position players. They are going to be a team to deal with.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.