Humble Roenicke key part of Crew's success
While first-year manager won't admit it, he's done a great job
MILWAUKEE -- There have been plenty of people in the Brewers organization, from players to members of the front office, who have been eager to say that manager Ron Roenicke has been one of the primary reasons for this team's success.
But you won't get that kind of analysis from Roenicke himself. The ranks of Major League managers are not heavily populated with modest men. But here is a truly modest man, perhaps even a humble man.
Roenicke is much more grateful than grasping in describing his first year on this job. This is not a pose with him. It is more like a deeply held belief. But all of the available evidence supports the notion that Roenicke has been doing a fine job.
The Brewers have won a division title for the first time in 29 years. Roenicke has created an open atmosphere for his players, in which individuality, as long as it serves the collective good, is encouraged, not squelched. And he has fostered a style that has allowed the Brewers to play aggressively on the basepaths, and has given this club the opportunity to manufacture runs as opposed to waiting for the three-run homer.
So this past weekend at Miller Park, some time after the National League Central had been clinched, Roenicke was asked if he would take a moment at some point to consider the accomplishments of his team and to consider, in that context, his own accomplishments.
The consideration of his team's accomplishments would come "later," Roenicke said. There was no time for it now, while the Brewers battled the Arizona Diamondbacks for the second seed in the NL and home-field advantage in the NL Division Series. But what about the question of the manager's achievements?
"I don't think I'll ever think about what I accomplished," Roenicke said. "I won't. I won't go there, because I don't feel that way. I feel the Lord has put me in a place where all I have to do is steer [the players] into a place where they should go."
Referring to general manager Doug Melvin, principal owner Mark Attanasio and assistant general manager Gord Ash, Roenicke said:
"Doug, Mark, Gord did an unbelievable job in putting this team together. I knew when I got the job that we had a good team. I did. I knew that core group, I knew we had a good team, but I also knew we had some holes. Doug addressed that; in the press conference [introducing Roenicke], he addressed that, said he wanted to better the pitching staff.
"He goes out and gets [Zack] Greinke and [Shaun] Marcum. A little later, we add [Takashi] Saito. My gosh, I just walked into a tremendous team. Then, all of a sudden, we get Nyjer [Morgan] in Spring Training. We added [Mark] Kotsay, and that was huge. We add [Francisco Rodriguez] at the All-Star break. We add Jerry Hairston [Jr.] when we need somebody when Rickie [Weeks] goes down.
"So it's not me. I'm trying to guide these guys into the right place. I'm trying to open up lines where everything is communicated well. But I've been blessed with an unbelievable team."
Roenicke had put in the necessary preparation for this opportunity. After an eight-year Major League career as a player, much of it as a backup outfielder, he managed in the Minors for five seasons, and then put in 11 years on Mike Scioscia's coaching staff with the Angels, a group that included future Manager of the Year Award winners Joe Maddon and Bud Black.
Along the way, Roenicke said, he was heavily and positively influenced by Del Crandall, a man with all sorts of Milwaukee baseball connections. Crandall was a longtime catcher on the Braves, including the 1957 team that brought a World Series championship to Milwaukee. He later managed the Brewers for four years. Roenicke played for Crandall for two seasons, one in Triple-A, one with the Seattle Mariners.
"Del Crandall told me a long time ago, when I started managing in the Minors, he talked about putting a player up and asking him to do something you really don't think he's going to accomplish," Roenicke said. "He said, 'Put him up there in a spot where you know he has a good chance to succeed.' And it's true. It still comes into play a lot."
That sort of empathetic managing approach will win admiration and appreciation in the clubhouse. This kind of approach does not appear to be calculated with Roenicke. Rather, it appears to be second nature to him.
It is a little too early to proclaim that this managerial career is headed toward all-time greatness. But Roenicke's role in the breakthrough success of the Brewers is apparent, even if you will not get a hint of that kind of information from the manager himself. In contemporary professional sports, this kind of modesty checks in at the level of downright refreshing.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.