Thursday, December 2, 2010
Ron Roenicke's 'experience' helps him
By Jerry Crasnick
Time will tell how Ron Roenicke responds when the Milwaukee Brewers' pitching staff hits a rough patch, the team encounters its first significant losing streak and the Miller Park sausage races start getting on his nerves. When the tension mounts, you never know what might prompt a man to go all Randall Simon on the Polish sausage or the chorizo.
If the interview process means anything, Roenicke has the temperament and long-term view to handle the inevitable bad days. In early November, Roenicke emerged from an extensive search to become Ken Macha's successor and the 18th manager in franchise history. The Brewers pruned an initial list of about 20 candidates down to eight, and Roenicke outlasted Bobby Valentine, Bob Melvin, Eric Wedge and Joey Cora, among others, to land a two-year deal with a club option for 2013.
During the first step in the feeling-out process, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was particularly impressed by the way Roenicke handled questions about his lack of a big league managerial pedigree. Recent college graduates in search of their first jobs should take note.
"Ron had one line that caught me in the interview,'' Melvin recalled. "He said, 'I don't have a lot of experience. But I've experienced a lot.'''
Melvin wasn't the only one who appreciated the sentiment. Not long after Roenicke's introductory interview with Melvin and special assistant Dan O'Brien, he was having dinner at owner Mark Attanasio's home in Brentwood, Calif., and making his goal a reality.
Roenicke, 54, arrives in Wisconsin with a broad and varied résumé. The younger brother of former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke, he has baseball in his genes. The Roenicke brothers, one year apart in school, played baseball, basketball and football together in West Covina, Calif., at Edgewood High, the same school that produced future big leaguers Jay Johnstone, Jim Merritt and Rick Aguilera.
Ron Roenicke played college ball at UCLA and was drafted five times before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers as the 17th pick in the secondary phase of the 1977 June draft. But he had knee problems and came to personify the word "journeyman'' over eight big league seasons.
Roenicke played for six teams, was once released five times in a harrowing 4½-year span and retired at age 32 with a .238 career batting average. By virtue of his challenging career path, he has lots of empathy for players who are victims of roster squeezes and recipients of bad news.
"Maybe it wasn't the best career,'' Roenicke said. "I wasn't a starter for 10 years. But there's no doubt it helped prepare me for this job. I've pretty much gone through everything that I'm going to ask somebody else to go through. I know what it's like when somebody tells you that you're going down or you're going to be released. I know how hard it is.''
After retiring as a player in 1988, Roenicke embarked on Phase 2 of his baseball life. He served as the "eye in the sky'' in Los Angeles, positioning the Dodgers' outfielders for Tommy Lasorda from an upstairs booth, before serving a managerial apprenticeship with the Giants and Dodgers in the minor leagues. Roenicke worked at each rung of the chain, compiling a 404-371 record, before spending the past 10 seasons as third-base and bench coach for the Los Angeles Angels.
Roenicke is the latest member of the Mike Scioscia development "tree'' to graduate to a big league managerial position. Former Angels bench coach Joe Maddon has led the Tampa Bay Rays to two playoff berths in the past three seasons, and fellow Scioscia disciple Bud Black guided the San Diego Padres to 90 wins and a surprising second-place finish in the National League West in 2010. Maddon and Black have both already won manager of the year awards.
Can Roenicke enjoy similar success? He takes over a Milwaukee team that ranked fourth in the NL in 2010 with 750 runs scored and second in home runs with 182 but finished 14th in the league with a 4.58 ERA. The starting pitching is thin after Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and 12-game winner Chris Narveson, and Melvin has some repair work to do through the trade and free-agent markets. The Brewers would love to see former No. 1 draft picks Mark Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress emerge as big league starters, but Melvin is going to have to assemble some depth in case the timetable fails to cooperate.
Some other issues: First baseman Prince Fielder is entering his free-agent walk year, and he's sure to be the focus of trade speculation. And the Brewers are young and inexperienced up the middle with catcher Jonathan Lucroy, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and center fielders Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez.
"We won 77 games,'' Melvin said. "It's not a huge gap to 90 wins, but it's not a small gap, either. We're going to have to pitch better. That's the most important thing.''
Macha ran the clubhouse with an old-school edge, and the Brewers are betting Roenicke might be a little more flexible in his approach. Roenicke is widely regarded as a nice guy with a low-key demeanor, but he's convinced he has the requisite firmness to get his point across.
|Before being named the Brewers' manager in early November, Ron Roenicke spent the past 10 seasons as a coach with the Angels.|
Roenicke played for Lasorda, Del Crandall, Dick Williams, Jim Davenport, Roger Craig, John Felske, Lee Elia and Pete Rose during his stops in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. You can find thinkers, schmoozers, baseball rats and one notorious hardliner (Williams) in that group.
"I think I'm going to be a players' manager, but I'll also be on top of everything,'' Roenicke said. "I don't want to be buddy-buddy with all the guys and just have fun. Mike Scioscia is a players' manager, but there's a line there. When he tells guys to do something, they know it's really important to him.
"I'm even-keeled, but I don't think I need to be a screamer. If you just bring a guy in the office and tell him, 'Hey, you didn't hustle last night -- we're not going to put up with that,' I don't think you have to yell to get that point across. Guys get it.''
Roenicke, not surprisingly, arrives in Milwaukee with a pledge to be aggressive. The Brewers were third in the NL with a 76 percent stolen-base success rate in 2010, but they attempted only 107 steals and ranked 14th in the league with 81 stolen bases.
Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, Cain, Gomez and Escobar have all recorded at least one season of 20 or more steals in the majors or minors, so Roenicke has a roster that can put pressure on opponents in ways beyond the home run ball. Roenicke also believes that an aggressive mindset on the bases can carry over to the field. Like Scioscia, he'll be more inclined to question a player for passivity than mistakes caused by overaggressiveness.
The Scioscia influence sticks with him in a multitude of ways.
"Mike is an extremely witty guy, and he can lighten it up and make it fun for the players,'' Roenicke said. "Then he can turn around and really lock in. You watch him during a game, and he's pretty intense. It's rare that he's ever going to be caught off guard. Just watching those things, it's helped me a lot.''
The folks back home in Covina will be watching with interest. Gary Roenicke, now a professional scout with the Orioles, wonders why it took so long for a club to see the light and give his brother a shot.
"I felt he was ready years ago,'' Gary said. "I know what kind of baseball guy he is -- how he knows the sport and can get the most out of people. I would see other people being interviewed and getting jobs over him, and I would shake my head. Other clubs were missing out not hiring him earlier.''
Now that Ron Roenicke's dues-paying days are over, he's ready to make his mark in Milwaukee. The Mike Scioscia development corporation is opening its first branch in the Midwest.
I think I'm going to be a players' manager, but I'll also be on top of everything. I don't want to be buddy-buddy with all the guys and just have fun. Mike Scioscia is a players' manager, but there's a line there. When he tells guys to do something, they know it's really important to him.
-- Ron Roenicke
Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via e-mail.