MILWAUKEE -- Jerry Royster was an 18-year-old non-roster player with the Dodgers heading to his first Spring Training in Vero Beach, Fla., in 1971 when he met Davey Lopes. On Thursday, their 31-year-strong friendship was immeasurably complicated.
On that cross-country flight, Royster recognized only a few faces from scout camp. Lopes, a four-year pro and seven years Royster's elder, sat with Royster for better than an hour. Their conversation sparked a friendship that remains strong today.
When Lopes was named the Brewers manager late in 1999, he chose Royster as his bench coach. When Lopes was fired
Thursday after a 3-12 start to the 2002 season, Royster took his job on an interim basis.
"I don't have mixed feelings about being the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, it's a privilege, it's an honor, that they considered me for the job and came right out and asked me to be the guy," Royster said. "I also have feelings about my best friend being fired. But between him and I we'll handle that just fine.
"I knew I was going to be a manager at the expense of someone, I just didn't know it was going to be at the expense of the guy who probably has been the most instrumental in me being who I am today."
But for Royster, 49, the move into the manager's office at Miller Park was a long time coming. A utility player who batted .249 in a 16-year playing career with the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, White Sox and Yankees, Royster managed Dodgers farm teams
from 1989-1992. He also managed in the Padres system at Triple-A Las Vegas from 1996-1998.
Royster interviewed for a number of Major League jobs beginning with the Texas Rangers' opening in 1992. Last winter, he interviewed for Houston's opening before the Astros chose Jimy Williams.
"I didn't think about being a manager until [journalists] started writing about it to be honest with you," said Royster, whose first managerial stint was for a rookie league team in 1989 with current Brewer Eric Young. "I just fell in love with
it. ... Fortunately I got better at it and started to like it even more."
Lopes called Royster just after 9 a.m. Thursday, after Brewers general manager Dean Taylor informed Lopes he had been fired.
Royster is the team's interim manager for now, and will be considered for the full-time job along with other internal and external candidates in a search that began immediately.
"At least one good thing came out of this so far -- one of my best friends gets an opportunity to manage," Lopes said. "For
how long? I don't know. That's something positive."
His advice to the new skipper? Lopes just laughed. "That's for Jerry and I."
Lopes said even if the Brewers choose someone else, perhaps someone with big league managerial experience, the opportunity may help his friend show other clubs he has what it takes.
"No matter how small the opportunity, you have to seize it while it's there," Lopes said.
Royster will try to seize that opportunity with a markedly different style than his predecessor. The outgoing skipper is an intense, no-nonsense guy who often delegated communication to his coaches. Royster is almost the exact opposite.
"Without a doubt," Royster said. "We're totally different in a lot of ways. ... Maybe I am a little more outgoing, or
whatever you want to call it. How I treat people won't change."
Young can attest to that. He was one of the few college graduates on the Dodgers' rookie league Kissimmee club in 1990 when Royster led the team to the league championship series.
"We had a bunch of high school players and first year guys from the Dominican, and I just remember him really nurturing and being a father figure and a friend," Young said. "He treated us rookie guys as if we were big league ballplayers."
Royster gets the credit for converting Young from an outfielder to a second baseman, where EY has made his big league living. The team was off Sundays, and Young said he and the coach went to the ballpark to work on fielding drills for hours.
"When a lot of people had a lot of doubts he had faith in me," Young said. "That's one thing I respect when I look at Jerry Royster."
"Everyone respects him," outfielder Geoff Jenkins said. "He has a lot of baseball knowledge to give and he's been here so
people are comfortable with him."
Royster said he will continue to spend a lot of time "hanging out" in the clubhouse with his players. That goes against the
norm established by some "old school" skippers, but Royster doesn't care. Neither does Jenkins.
"I've always wondered about that phenomenon, how coaches can be tight with players but the manager has to kind of keep his
distance," Jenkins said. "Good managers always go and talk to the players and are making sure that there is a problem. I'm
glad Jerry isn't going to change in that."
What will have to change, though, is the Brewers' current course. Lopes' firing came after just three wins in the team's
first 15 games, and the hitters have collectively been unable to find their stroke. Still, Royster pledged to keep his cool.
"I'm not a tough guy. But it doesn't matter if I'm a tough guy or not. I can yell and scream but until we start playing to
our capability it's going to be a tough go," he said. "We understand that, and I don't need to yell and scream if we don't
have a hit. If that worked, believe me, we'd have a lot of hits."
Adam McCalvy covers the Brewers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its