Roenicke unfazed by challenges, expectations
First-year manager takes over contending club in Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE -- The man his wife nicknamed "No. 4" is ready for season No. 1 with the Brewers.Ron Roenicke's nickname came from his wife, Karen, who noticed that the October news reports about the Brewers' four managerial finalists always seemed to list her husband last. Bobby Valentine had the big name and even bigger personality. Bob Melvin had the Milwaukee ties and, like Valentine, the previous big league managerial experience. Joey Cora had the "up and comer" buzz. Then came Roenicke, the 54-year-old bench coach of the Angels, termed the "dark horse" of the group by the local newspaper. So Karen Roenicke ran with it, and started calling him No. 4. "It didn't bother me," Ron Roenicke said. "When you looked at Milwaukee, I didn't know anybody there, so I don't know how they could have called me the frontrunner. It came down to, what were they looking for? Some teams want experience. Some teams want a calm manager, others want a fiery guy. "But I've done a lot of different jobs in my career, and I had to explain during the interview process why those things, good and bad, made me a good fit for the job. ... I know how it feels to be released. I know what it feels like to be sent down. I know what it feels like when you make a team out of Spring Training. I know all of those feelings, some of them not good, and all of that goes into managing." At the end of that process, Roenicke was the choice as the 18th manager in Brewers history. So who is this dark horse? He's a former first-round Draft pick of the Dodgers who played the infield over parts of eight Major League seasons for six different teams. His brother, Gary, played 12 seasons as an outfielder, mostly for the Orioles, and had much more success than Ron. That meant Ron bounced around and played for eight managers in the Majors, experience that served him well when he became a Dodgers coach in 1992 and then managed in the Minor Leagues from 1994-99. In 2000, he joined Angels manager Mike Scioscia's staff. Fit and very slim, Roenicke worships the holy trinity of baseball's offseason -- hunting, fishing and golf. But he also might be the Brewers' first carpenter, among his projects a home office from scratch for his father-in-law. "It's fun to have your mind off your job," he said. "When I was managing in the Minor Leagues, you're thinking about it all the time. You go to bed thinking about things you want to try and wake up thinking about things. Sometimes you put too much thinking into it. More than you need to do." Roenicke is the latest of Scioscia's coaches to graduate to managerial jobs, following Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon and San Diego's Bud Black. But Roenicke is really a disciple of Del Crandall, the former Milwaukee Braves All-Star catcher who managed the Brewers in their infancy and later became one of the team's broadcasters. Crandall was Roenicke's manager at Triple-A Albuquerque in the early 1980s. "The thing I liked best were the way he approached people with things, and that he had common sense," Roenicke said. "Tremendous common sense. "He knew how to simplify things for the players. Some players, you can get really complicated with. David Eckstein, I could throw anything I wanted to at Eck and he could go into a ballgame and do things. Other players, if you throw too much at them, get too complicated or in-depth, and they go out there thinking too much. There's a fine line there. Del had a way of knowing it." Crandall lives in California and the men remain in touch. They met a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles at a scout's dinner to honor another former Brewer, Robin Yount. Roenicke's first chance to put his stamp on the Brewers came during three days of meetings at Miller Park ahead of the team's Jan. 30 fanfest. The gathering included all of Roenicke's coaches, none of whom he'd worked with previously, plus the team's baseball operations staff and some of its player development and scouting personnel. The "get on the same page" sessions included a study of the organizational depth chart to talk about Roenicke's style of play on down to how Spring Training workouts will be organized. Mostly, Roenicke was interested in learning about the character of the men he'll spent the next eight or nine months with. "I feel not as anxious now after the meetings in Milwaukee," he said. "Getting to know our coaching staff a lot better, getting to know a lot of our players, that really helped, because it's uncomfortable going into a new situation where you don't know people. After those three days of meetings, I'm really looking forward to it." When they get down to business, Roenicke wants to run. A more aggressive style of baserunning would be a major shift from previous manager Ken Macha, who believed in a more station-to-station approach because the Brewers have so many power hitters. That philosophy frustrated many players, who grumbled after Macha put the brakes on the running game after a series of mistakes last spring. "Ron is an aggressive manager and we have some really aggressive players," said hitting coach Dale Sveum, who signed a two-year extension before the Brewers hired Roenicke. "They're champing at the bit to play for this guy." Left fielder Ryan Braun is among them. "We've all felt that way for a long time," Braun said. "I think that a lot of times the threat of pressure does more than the actual pressure, when they know you might run, that you might try to go first to third or turn doubles into triples. That puts more pressure on the pitcher and makes the other team feel uncomfortable, I think. "For all of us, that's the style of baseball we've wanted to play, but we've certainly been discouraged the last couple of years." That's about to change under Roenicke, the rare first-time manager who will jump right into World Series-sized expectations. General manager Doug Melvin made sure of that when he acquired pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in December without touching the core of Milwaukee's power-packed lineup. With the high expectations, Roenicke won't be afforded a honeymoon period. "I think it's both tough and great," Roenicke said. "Most times, a first-year manager does not have the opportunity to win. We have the opportunity to win. So maybe it's a little tougher coming in, but it's a great situation. The challenge now is to get these players to unite with the sole purpose of winning ballgames. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun."