Ken Macha and the question of timing

Jonathan Daniel

In an alternate universe somewhere, is Ken Macha the greatest Brewer manager of all time?

Every now and then in this space or on the radio I'm asked about Ron Roenicke's job security. I'm pretty convinced Roenicke isn't going anywhere. He's only a little more than a year into from the contract extension he signed last season, and two years removed from being present when the Brewers won 96 games and the NL Central.

I used the phrase "being present" there because it's impossible to tell how much of a difference Ron Roenicke made with the 2011 team, or any manager makes with any team, really. We can attempt to quantify the impacts of some of their decisions, but so much of the job is intangible that it's not feasible to separate out and identify the amount to which a manager helped or hindered a team. We rank them largely based on wins and losses because that's the tool we have available, but it may or may not provide an accurate reflection of their skill set.

So, by joining the Brewers as they were in the middle of assembling one of the best teams in franchise history, Ron Roenicke put himself into position to get a free pass for the pair of disappointing seasons that followed. That got me wondering: By shifting history around a bit, could one create a similar scenario for Ken Macha?

Consider for a moment a world where the last six Brewer seasons remain exactly the same, with one exception: Ned Yost is fired in September of 2007, instead of 2008. The ensuing series of events goes something like this:

  • Dale Sveum takes over a Brewer team that is one game back in the NL Central with 12 games to play. He goes 5-7 in those 12 games, misses the playoffs and doesn't get the full time job for 2008.
  • Ken Macha leaves the broadcast booth a year early, and is hired to manage the Brewers for 2008. Instead of starting his Brewer tenure by managing the post-playoff decline, he gets to manage the Sheets/Sabathia Wild Card team. That team wins 90 games and Macha is a strong candidate for NL Manager of the Year.
  • As the first manager to take the Brewers to the playoffs in 26 years, Macha gets a bit more leeway when the team slides downhill in 2009 and 2010. There are calls for his head and reports that he's not well liked in the clubhouse, but Doug Melvin continues to credit Macha for the team's 2008 playoff run and gives him a contract extension.
  • Macha is at the helm as the Brewers reload with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, set a franchise record with 96 wins and come within two wins of the World Series in 2011.

Given that scenario, Macha might be seen as something of a small market hero: Within a decade he'd have made four playoff appearances leading the low-budget A's and mid-market Brewers. He'd be the only manager in franchise history to make two playoff appearances, and his job would almost certainly still be safe right now.

Assuming he'd managed the Brewers from 2008-present and nothing else had changed, Macha would be the second-winningest manager in franchise history:

Manager Wins Losses Win %
Phil Garner 563 617 .477
Ken Macha 482 456 .514
Tom Trebelhorn 422 397 .525
George Bamberger 377 351 .518
Ned Yost* 369 428 .463

* - Yost drops 88 wins and 74 losses off his record by being fired near the end of 2007 instead of 2008.

Overall, Macha's career record would be 850-736 over ten seasons. Given that mark and his playoff runs, I could see one making the argument that he's both the best manager in Brewer franchise history and one of the best active skippers in all of baseball. That's a pretty far cry from what was said about him when the real Brewers showed him the door following 2010.

Of course, there's a flaw in all of this methodology. Managers aren't actually one-size-fits-all widgets that can be slid into place without impacting the results. It's possible the 2008 and 2011 Brewers were better with Yost/Sveum and Roenicke than they would have been with Macha. But it's also possible he could have run them better, and we'll never know for sure.

I guess the takeaway point from this rambling pre-coffee Saturday morning thought exercise is this: There are certainly qualities that make a great manager. But if you want to be perceived as a great manager or have any significant level of job security, possessing those skills might not be as important as finding the right opportunity to step in at the right time.

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