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Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008

Macha-vellian Musings

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Looking to build on their first playoff appearance in a generation, the Brewers have settled on their leadership for 2009. General manager Doug Melvin has a contract extension through 2012. Former Oakland manager Ken Macha is the new skipper in the dugout. Several coaches from Ned Yost’s staff are back, including Dale Sveum, who replaced Yost in September but was passed over for the ‘09 managing job. And Willie Randolph, who also interviewed for the managing spot, will be Macha’s bench coach—if he doesn’t become Seattle’s manager. It’s a setup that has the Observers blinking.

Frank: Ken Macha must have a ton of self-confidence. He took the job knowing his predecessor would be kept as a coach, and he chose another managerial candidate to join him on the bench.

Artie: Macha must be OK with Sveum because he took the job, but having two former managers on the staff would make me uncomfortable—like if your wife insisted on renting the guest room to a guy she used to date.

Frank: With the Yankees of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Billy Martin was always “in the wings” between his firings, but he wasn’t sitting in the dugout.

Artie: Plus, Macha knew the Brewers were keeping Ed Sedar as first base coach and Bill Castro as bullpen coach, and that they hoped to keep Mike Maddux as pitching coach.

Frank: Now Maddux has gone to Texas and Castro has succeeded him.

Artie: All that’s left is to find a bullpen coach. Hey! Ned Yost was a catcher, ain’a?

Frank: Perfect choice!

Artie: Just how unusual is it to hire a manager but keep a bunch of the old coaches?

Frank: It happens, I guess, but it sure ain’t common. And there’s this: Macha has a two-year contract, but it’s really a oneyear deal, because if things go bad in ‘09 the assumption is that they won’t want a lame-duck manager in 2010. And what if they’re in contention but struggling next September? There’ll be two experienced guys available to take over. Hey, putting Sveum in charge worked once, so…

Artie: He could carve out a career as an “interim.” What’s with this phobia about “lame duck,” anyway? If a manager’s contract is ending, the players quit on him?

Frank: With Castro replacing Maddux there’s no loss of familiarity with the pitching staff. But Melvin certainly wanted Maddux to stay because he worked well with the young pitchers. Whatever he told Derrick Turnbow in 2005 turned him into a lights-out closer—but only for a year and a half.

Artie: Rags to riches and back to rags.

Frank: Presumably, he told Turnbow the same stuff over the last two years, but the results sure changed.

Artie: Here’s a reverse example: Grant Balfour. As a Brewer briefly in ‘07, he was Grant “Ball One, Two, Three AND Four.” But he was great for Tampa Bay this year.

Frank: The eternal question: How much difference does a manager or coach really make?

Artie: Back to Sveum. They make him the hitting coach, something he’s never done. What’s next, pitching coach if Castro doesn’t work out?

Frank: Sveum wasn’t a great hitter, but the Brewers had Rod Carew as hitting coach in 2000 and ‘01 and he didn’t cure their strikeout-prone ways.

Artie: I think keeping Sveum was a gesture to the fans. As in, “We don’t want to come off as cutthroat, firing Yost and then dumping Sveum, too.” I think Sveum has a certain following, partly because of his famous home run during the big winning streak in ‘87.

Frank: Easter Sunday against Texas, game 12 of the 13-game streak. But I think keeping Sveum was a gesture to the players; they feel comfortable with him. And speaking of comfort, Mike Cameron got some when the Brewers picked up his $10 million option for next year.

Artie: But now we hear they might trade him to the Yankees.

Frank: Cameron’s a popular guy because of his pal, CC Sabathia. The Brewers and maybe the Yankees think he might persuade the big lefty to join him.

Artie: I heard Cameron was the thirdhighest center fielder in the league in OPS—on-base percentage plus slugging— but man, does that guy strike out a lot!

Frank: Whoever has Cameron, the Yankees have something the Brewers don’t: oceans of money, thanks to their own cable network, their new stadium and the ungodly prices they’ll charge next year. The Brewers apparently offered CC a $100 million deal over five years, but the Yankees can go way higher.

Artie: And don’t forget the Angels, who have thrown some money around the last few years.

Frank: At least the Cubs aren’t in the CC sweepstakes. But Chicago isn’t thinking baseball now. It’s the home of an almost-president!

Artie: That’s gotta mean a bundle in earmark legislation, ain’a?

Frank: Not just that. Chicago apparently thinks President Obama will help land the 2016 Summer Olympics. He’s popular around the world now and may still be next October, when the International Olympic Committee votes. He might not be popular, or even president, in 2016, but so what? Next year is when Chicago has to beat out Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.

Artie: If there’s one thing Chicago knows, it’s how to rig elections. All those folks who voted 10 times for Jack Kennedy in 1960 can petition the IOC.

Frank: And if Chicago wins, Mayor Daley has hinted that the Milwaukee area could get a piece of the action. Not just with overpriced hotel rooms or team training sites, but maybe a venue or two for competition.

Artie: Oh boy, I can imagine the events Chicago would graciously send our way. “OK, bush-league sister to the north, how does flat-water kayaking and team handball sound?”

Frank: So far the only event suggested for here is mountain biking.

Artie: Because of all the mountains in southern Wisconsin, right?

Frank: More like hills; it would be in the Kettle Moraine area. But we also have a cool place for medal ceremonies—Miller Park. The winners could glide down Bernie Brewer’s slide and grab their national flags at the bottom.

Artie: Maybe we could get a track event and the runners would have to dress like our sausages.

Frank: If Chicago farms out to us, we could farm out to Green Bay. Make those skinny high-jumpers put on pads and helmets and compete in the Lambeau Leap.

Artie: And include beer spraying for “degree of difficulty.” Sounds good to me! We’ve got to spruce things up because otherwise who wants to watch? It’s just a bunch of amateurs.

Frank: Very, very, well-subsidized amateurs. Well, Chicago is up for the Olympics, but it wasn’t up for the NFL’s only unbeaten team Sunday. The Bears lost to Tennessee and fell to 5-4.

Artie: Good thing, too, since the Packers handed one to the Vikings. That game was painful to watch. I don’t know where the guys on the Vikings defense went to college, but they must’ve majored in dentistry from the way Aaron Rodgers was getting drilled.

Frank: All of which makes the Packer- Bear game this weekend at Lambeau huger than huge. A loss would put the Pack two games behind Chicago with six to play. And if Minnesota were to win at Tampa Bay...

Artie: The Packers’ postseason could be eerily similar to last year—watching Brett Favre toss a game-ending interception to bounce his team out of the playoffs.

Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years. A couple, three trips to the dentist lately have left Art Kumbalek with a sizable cavity in his wallet.

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