Macha reflects on lost season
When those individuals rarely find themselves on the same page, there will be problems, as was the case with Milwaukee Brewers manager Ken Macha and star players Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder the last two seasons.
The Brewers announced Monday they declined Macha's option for next year. Probably more influential than his relationships with Braun and Fielder was the fact the team's pitching ranked near the bottom of the National League during Macha's two years, leading to unfulfilled expectations and disappointment.
Still, when the two faces of the franchise aren't in tune with the manager, winning becomes that much more difficult.
Macha implemented an open-door policy and strongly reiterated that during last spring training as he tried to open dialogues with those players, but it never stuck.
"If the effort wasn't reciprocated, then there's not a whole lot I can do about it. You can't force guys to do that," Macha said as he drove home to Pittsburgh after his early-morning meeting with general manager Doug Melvin. "Some guys were open to discussion and some guys weren't, I guess.
"I talked a lot to Ryan almost every day, but he does his own thing. He's going to do what he wants to do.
"With Prince, I think he had some issues this year to deal with, the contract (negotiations) probably being the main thing, and at times he was hard to talk to. I don't know if there were any guys on the (coaching) staff that talked a whole lot to him this year."
Macha, 60, said he had positive relationships with other players, several of whom personally thanked him for his effort after Sunday's final game, including Randy Wolf, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee. During that final series in Cincinnati, Macha also had a "good talk" with Trevor Hoffman, who had been sour with Macha at times because he was not pitching regularly or closing games after overcoming his first-half struggles.
"Those kind of things happen with any manager on any ballclub when you have 25 players," Melvin said. "There's always going to be some issues. That wasn't the whole crux of our conversation. There wasn't a lot of talk about that."
With the core of the team in its 20s, Macha's old-school style did not always mesh with certain players. But Melvin noted that most playoff managers have old-school mentalities and the one exception, New York's Joe Girardi, has the game's highest payroll.
Macha put a stop to the over-the-top and sometimes gaudy celebrations and strongly suggested to Fielder and Braun that the team stop pulling out their shirttails after victories, an act that drew ire from other teams. The players agreed to stop that practice.
Despite heeding Macha's requests, Braun and Fielder play with brashness and flair and didn't like being harnessed, though neither publicly expressed that sentiment. There was one final conflict Sunday when Braun failed to run out a pop fly and was benched by Macha, who called it "a little embarrassing."
"Those are the two guys, but the rest of the guys, it was all positive," said Macha, who was reported to have had tenuous relationships with certain players while managing Oakland from 2003-'06. "I opened up to (Braun and Fielder) but you have to have a back and forth. That never really happened."
Players had problems with Macha not "defending" them at times when they felt umpires missed calls. And fans were turned off by his drab public personality during press conferences, even fans who didn't like the sometimes combative personality of former manager Ned Yost by the end of his tenure.
No matter his relationship with Braun, Fielder or anyone else, winning could have cured Macha's problems. But he never had a real chance to do so because of a pitching staff that finished with the league's third-worst earned-run average this season and the second-worst in 2009.
"We lacked that No. 1 guy going out there," Macha said.
Expectations to win were high coming off the 2008 playoff run but were unrealistic after the losses of Ben Sheets, who started the 2008 All-Star Game, and left-hander CC Sabathia, who had an incredible second half to earn his monster contract with the Yankees.
Macha, who went 157-167 with the Brewers, thanked Melvin for the opportunity to get back into baseball after two seasons out of uniform.
"It's too bad we didn't win more games, but I appreciate Doug bringing me here," Macha said. "The expectations were to put up more wins and we didn't do that. That's the game."
Anthony Witrado writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.