Those are the two words I uttered when I first heard Ken Macha would not be back with the Brewers for a third season.
That euphoria lasted all of five minutes because then I found out who was going to replace him.
It took a little while to find out who the candidates even were. Two prominent mentions were Bob Brenly (gag!) and Bobby Valentine. I did not want either of them anywhere near the Brewers. Then there was talk of Joey Cora, who wouldn't have been all bad.
Then came the name Ron Roenicke. My only recollection of him was on a baseball card I had as a kid.
Not much later, more information on Roenicke began trickling in. He was on Mike Scioscia's staff in Anaheim, and he favored an aggressive style of baseball. Those were certainly two positives.
Scioscia's two previous bench coaches, Joe Maddon and Bud Black, have gone on to tremendous success managing the Rays and Padres respectively. Could Roenicke do the same?
I have listened to what Roenicke and others have said and not said in the few short months since he has been manager of the Brewers. Everything I hear leads me to believe he will succeed and be the 2011 NL Manager of the Year.
1) Aggressive Style, Yet Calm
Those are two seemingly contradictory notions, but they can work in harmony within the right personality. Roenicke has said from day one that he plans to be aggressive on the bases and constantly put pressure on the opposing defense.
Pressure doesn't mean running around the bases willy-nilly. To Roenicke, it means being aggressive going from first to third and always taking that extra base. It means hitting and running and bunting for base hits.
While willing to be aggressive, Roenicke won't pull the plug on that philosophy if someone happens to get thrown out. He knows the risk, and he's willing to take it. That sense of calm hasn't been present in the recent past in the Brewers dugout.
Under the previous regime, one mistake meant a shift from aggressiveness to ultra conservatism. That type of panic was a major problem.
Right or wrong, this spring Ryan Braun made some comments about the negativity that permeated the Brewers clubhouse last year. Other players, including Corey Hart and Prince Fielder, reinforced that sentiment in a slightly more diplomatic way. No matter how the message was sent, it was still the same.
In multiple forums, including on MLBTV's 30 Clubs in 30 Days, several Brewers players have used the word fun when describing their first spring camp under Ron Roenicke. I thought spring training wasn't supposed to be fun.
Braun has been up front saying that they are playing a game, and it is supposed to be fun. He's got a point. Games are meant to be fun. Who knew baseball could be fun in Milwaukee?
3) Open Communication
Coaches under the tutelage of Mike Scioscia become aware of how important people skills are in being a successful major league manager.
After Roenicke was hired and before spring training began, he invited Ryan Braun to lunch. The two live near each other in California, so it seemed to be an easy way for Roenicke to get the pulse of the Brewers from one of its leaders.
Braun said he appreciated that the new manager reached out and sought his opinion. An important line of communication was opened early on.
During spring training, Roenicke has made a point of talking to each player on a regular basis to find out exactly the best way each player can get ready for the regular season. No one knows what a player needs more than that player himself. Roenicke is approachable and more than willing to listen to his players.
Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has characterized the previous two Brewers managers as being wound too tight (Ned Yost) and as "grandpa-grumpy" (Ken Macha). Both of their personalities rubbed many of the players the wrong way. Ron Roenicke is clearly neither of those.
4) Trust and Respect
In my estimation trust and respect are probably the most important components of a solid player/manager relationship, but without open communication, neither of these would be possible.
The Brewers players, most notably Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, felt they couldn't count on Ken Macha to stand up for them and as a result didn't respect him or even like him just a little bit.
Macha tried to play things as if he had an open-door policy for his players in 2010. It was easy to claim that when he already knew the players didn't respect him enough to want to talk to him. Then he tried to put it all off on the players, as if he did everything he could to be open to communication, especially with the team's stars.
Macha never once took any responsibility for the poor lines of communication. When Jason Kendall had issues with Macha in Oakland, that should have told Doug Melvin something.
Ron Roenicke is the complete antithesis of Macha. He truly wants to communicate and get to know his players. He put his trust in the players right from the start.
Roenicke has made clear that he wants the players to come to him when they feel they need a day off this spring. Not only that, Roenicke has been open to players asking for more playing time. Fielder took advantage of that when he felt he needed more at-bats. Roenicke didn't hesitate to slide Prince into that day's lineup.
Roenicke has shown trust in his players to not take advantage of that policy, and the players haven't done that in the least. They have continued working even when they weren't playing in games. The players realize that when the manager puts his trust in them, they need to do the same with their manager.
Players appreciate not being treated like little kids and constantly being told what to do. When they are treated like adults, odds are they will act like adults.
5) The Starting Rotation
I couldn't ignore this extremely important change in the Brewers team. We all know what the starting rotation has looked like for some time minus the rental of CC Sabathia.
In the minimal number of games Ben Sheets was healthy, he was a stud and a true No. 1 starter. Yovani Gallardo has been good but is still not considered a No. 1 in my eyes until he becomes more consistent. Signing Randy Wolf was a decent move, but he is only a No. 3 or 4 starter.
Finally, this offseason Doug Melvin got aggressive and brought in two very good starting pitchers in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.
I won't pretend things may have been different under previous managers if they had this starting staff, but then again, maybe not. If you can't talk to your manager or trust and respect him, it doesn't matter who is on the mound. The team is still going to struggle.
Ron Roenicke has been the bench coach on a team with a dynamic starting staff. That can only help him in connecting with the Brewers starters. It's a proven fact that better pitching leads to more wins, which will make the Brewers' run at the NL Central crown that much more probable.
Going down this list, I think you can see why I think the way I do. Roenicke has a good baseball on-field philosophy. He has the right personality. He values communication, trust, respect and positivity throughout the organization.
He will let the players speak their minds and be themselves—in fact, he encourages it. Roenicke will also have one of the better starting rotations in the entire National League.
How can you not view him as being one of the favorites for NL Manager of the Year? I do.
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