Clubhouse Chatter: It's All About Tone

On a day where a San Francisco newspaper spelled out the communications issues that surrounded Ken Macha's tenure as the Oakland A's manager, the A's announced that they were firing their skipper in the clearest way possible: a press release. And so ends the Ken Macha era of Oakland A's baseball.

Of course, we've all seen these press releases before. It was around this time last year that the A's issued a similar press release, stating that they were breaking off negotiations with the then-free agent manager Ken Macha and would be looking in another direction. Less than two weeks later, the A's made the surprising announcement that Macha would be returning to the A's for three more years.

So much for clear communication. There hasn't been very clear communication between Macha and the A's front office all season. Ever since Macha was brought back on-board, it was clear from Billy Beane's tone that it was a marriage of convenience more than a marriage of desire. Macha was just good enough to be the A's manager, and nothing more.

On Macha's part, it appeared that he, too, was re-entering this situation with a half-heart. Having struck out with the Pittsburgh Pirates last October, Macha returned to the A's with an air of "it's better to be managing somewhere than nowhere at all."

For the most part, I believe that Macha did a good job with his players. He was good with young players, trusting Huston Street, Nick Swisher and Bobby Crosby to take on big roles as rookies and helping Rich Harden develop from a wild thrower into an intelligent pitcher, an important characteristic for the A's given their reliance on their farm system.

Macha also seemed to do a good job of standing out of the way of an A's clubhouse which has, over the past seven years, developed a loose persona which could bother some managers.

He wasn't the best manager of bullpens, and certainly one has to wonder if the rash of injuries to the A's relievers this season had something to do with Macha's management of those hurlers. However, you can ask the same question of nearly every manager in baseball and you'd be hard-pressed to single out any one of them as being absolutely outstanding at bullpen management all of the time.

At the end of the day, the A's did win two division titles on Macha's watch and did advance to an ALCS for the first time since 1992, so Macha must have been doing something right, so it was a little surprising to see the A's make this move right now.

However, Susan Slusser's San Francisco Chronicle article on Monday detailed the reasons behind what was at the time of publication a possible decision to fire Macha. It centered around a lack of communication from Macha with his players. Slusser pointed to a number of communications break-downs during the season and even stated that one or more players had indicated that if Macha was still around, they weren't likely to return.

If that was really true, then it certainly makes sense that Macha would be fired at this time. After all, as we hear Beane say so often, it's hard enough to get players to come to Oakland to play.

I think, though, that if we leave the communications issue only in the hands of Ken Macha, we miss a larger organizational problem. There has been a tone of defeatism that has reigned through the A's organization for the last several years.

We hear it all of the time from the A's ownership, the GM, the manager, the players, etc.: Oakland is a second-tier market and we are lucky to win as much as we do. Even before the playoffs started, Beane was pulling out his famous "the playoffs are a crapshoot" line, almost to defend the team from an expected loss. Yes, the playoffs might be a crapshoot. And, yes, the A's were going to have to beat some pretty good teams to make it to the World Series, but sometimes it's okay to be a little positive about the situation in advance. After all, they didn't win 93 games by being lucky.

There was an interesting moment in this year's post-season that I think was missed by many pundits. After the Tigers lost game one of the ALDS to the New York Yankees by a score of 8-4, Tigers manager Jim Leyland did not come out and say "they were just the better team and we got beat," like, say, Eric Chavez did after the A's lost game two of the ALCS. Instead, Leyland pointed to the four runs that the Tigers scored as proof that they could hang with the Yankees. He stated that the Tigers had proven that they belonged as a playoff team, something that a casual observer might have thought was misguided optimism. The Tigers haven't lost since.

Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that one statement can change the outcome of a baseball game. His players still had to perform for Leyland's optimism to be realized. However, I do think that it doesn't hurt to remind players that they are good enough to be there. The A's leadership failed to make a statement like Leyland did at any point during the ALCS. Whether that hurt the team or not is hard to say, but I do believe that players look to their leaders to set a tone and the tone was decidedly somber from the A's coaching staff after game one. Macha also failed to go out to the mound to calm down his pitchers when they were getting hit around, something Leyland did with a great deal of effectiveness in this series.

The A's could use a new, Leyland-like voice at the helm of the battleship. That voice needs to start at the top with the A's ownership and front office, who need to stop moaning about their "small market" situation and start playing up the good attributes of their ballpark and their fan base, who deserve better. And that voice needs to be extended to the manager's office, where, if nothing else, the A's need someone to be there in the tough times reminding the team that they are good enough to play with the very best.

For this move to mean anything, Beane will need to go out of his comfort-zone and look for a manager who can really speak for the team. And that means that said new manager will need to have some autonomy when it comes to running his team, something it appears that neither Macha nor his predecessor, Art Howe, ever really had. He doesn't need to throw bases like Lou Piniella or insult columnists like Ozzie Guillen, but if he can instill confidence like Leyland or the Twins' Ron Gardenhire, the new A's manager might just get the "little team that could" over that last proverbial hump. It will be interesting to see what direction Beane and the A's decide to go this time around.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or

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