Getting to Know Ken Macha

Denis Savage, publisher of MadFriars.com (Padres) on the Scout network, sat down with new Milwaukee manager Ken Macha. Here's an extensive and exclusive Q&A held during this week's winter meetings in Las Vegas.

Q. How many guys have you talked to?

A. I'm going to say 14 maybe, 13, 14 guys, the ones that answered. I'm not into leaving messages, OK.

Q. What's your message? Do you have a message for them or are you just introducing yourself?

A. I introduce myself, I tell them how excited I am to be able to take over this club that got in the playoffs last year. A guy like Ryan Braun, I told him congratulations on third in the MVP and he got a Silver Slugger award, and I haven't really seen him play, and I'm looking forward to seeing him playing. This organization and the players on the team deserve a lot of congratulations because of the trip they had made in six years since Doug has been there, going from a team that hasn't made the playoffs the whole time and then all of a sudden gets in the playoffs, so there's a lot of congratulations for the organization and the players. So, a little different message probably to all the players. I tried to reach out to all of them. But like I said, there was a lot who didn't answer the phone.

Q. Did (Jason) Kendall pick up the phone? He probably knew your number.

A. I spoke to Kendall.

Q. You're in a situation where to get to know what you need to know about these people doesn't happen until spring training?

A. I agree with that, and you're relying more or less on the evaluation of the people in the front office. One of the nice things we've got, a lot of holdover coaches, Dale Sveum is here and Eddie Sedar and, of course, Billy Castro, Willie Randolph has seen this team, maybe in a little different light. Willie and I go back in the Padre organization where we signed the same year, so I'm going to value his opinion on these players, and of course his help with the national team. At this particular point in time, players that I have not seen, I'm going to rely on the other people. But you're right, spring training--Mike Cameron, I've seen him play a whole bunch, (Brian) Shouse, he pitched for me in Pawtucket, and Suppan pitched for me in the Red Sox organization as well. And I've seen David Bush pitch. I think right now, being in the meetings and going over players and how the team is formulated, I've got to kind of sit back and let Doug do his thing and trust what he's doing. You know what, you've got to give Doug a lot of credit. Like I said, six years ago to where it is right now. And B, if you're worried about the bullpen, he brought in (Dan) Kolb from Texas and he did such a great job. And then they went and got (Derrick) Turnbow and he came in and did a pretty good job. So he's got the knack for going out and getting somebody relatively unknown and doing a good job for them in the bullpen.

Q. In the case where you don't have great familiarity, there is obviously evaluation and testimony from other people, do you sort of keep an open mind for yourself until you get to evaluate them personally?

A. You know what, when I managed in the minor leagues with the Red Sox, our farm director always used to call me up and say, ‘I'm sending this guy up here, he can do this, he can do that.' I said, ‘I'll tell you in two weeks. Let me watch him play for two weeks and then I'll let you know.' I think that's invaluable, the experience of managing in the minor leagues, so you can sit back and watch guys play for a couple weeks in spring training and see what they're doing or not doing and make their own judgment.

Q. So, you haven't looked at scouting reports of the guys you're inheriting?

A. Actually I've looked at more scouting reports for the teams in our division than I have for our club.

Q. Have you had any interaction with (owner) Mark Attanasio?

A. A phone call the day I was hired. That's it.

Q. Are there any pressures in taking over a playoff team that hadn't been to the postseason for 26 years because now the fans kind of liked that and would like to see it again?

A. Well, I think the front office likes it. I think probably the ownership likes it, and I know myself as a manager out there in Oakland, we competed all four years and got to the playoffs twice, and I like it, too. But the reality is that there's only four teams that wind up getting in, and you've got to be one of the elite teams in the league. It's not an easy thing to do, as you said, 26 years of not getting in. But I'd much rather have a team with expectations than have a team that's looking just to fill out the season.

Q. Obviously CC (Sabathia) had a huge part in getting them there. He was very high in the MVP balloting and he was only there three months. If he's not back, will you be able to sell that you have a playoff team going into the season?

A. I would hope that all the players looked at what happened last season, and that's team, and sure, CC had a hand in it, but I believe they got off to a great start and had a nice lead midway through the year. Got a lot of young guys there. They've got to start believing and improving every day and becoming better players. Just taking a look at the position players, I think guys--it takes at least three years in the Major Leagues around a lot of young players developing, and it takes at least three years to settle in and go to the ballpark this day, and I know how this guy pitched to me the last time or he pitched to me last year and start having a little better at-bats. When you do that, you go from like 100 RBIs to 125 RBIs because you start having better at-bats and becoming familiar. With or without CC, these position players, as I said, got to have improvement with them, and they did extremely well in the first half of the season. There's no reason they can't just carry that throughout the entire season.

Q. Do you enjoy the winter meetings stuff, the meetings up in the suite and that?

A. Well, like I said, I'm absorbing more than anything, listening to everyone else talking. Players' names come up, players who I've seen play, so I'm not afraid to voice my opinion on that either. But I'm a teacher. I'm ready for the pain. The other guys do the planning.

Q. Dale (Sveum) has never been a hitting coach before and Billy (Castro) has never been the pitching coach. He's been the bullpen coach, but it's a little bit different responsibilities. Will there be any learning curve for them or do you think not so much because they've already been around these guys?

A. I will address Dale first. Terry Francona and I are very good friends, and Terry mentioned to me because Dale had worked for him what type of passion this guy has, A, for the game, and B, for hitting. I had never been around Dale for an entire season like Terry had. He said basically that--he talked hitting a lot, particularly with their players in Boston. That was the year I believe they won the World Series. That was in '04. When you get somebody that has that type of passion, I'm not really concerned about it. I think he'll do a good job. Billy has been around these pitchers a whole lot. He knows them very well. He's been in the organization all these years. He's been through the preparation, been with the various managers, and is probably going to be part of my job to help him out, also, OK, as far as becoming a pitching coach. I went through a transition in Oakland where we had Rick Peterson there my first year and then we brought in Curt Young who really had done none of that at the big league level, and for me Curt Young is one of the best pitching coaches in the league now. He's done a great job with the pitching in Oakland. If it wasn't for the job he had done with their pitching, who knows where they would have been the last two years. I believe pitching coach is extremely important, and my background is basically in pitching, so together we can just figure it out.

Q. As a manager, how do you see the relationship with your bench coach, because I think every manager has a little different idea or a little different relationship than the next guy.

A. I think the … see, one of the things that I feel is a strength for me, I've been a third base coach, I've been a bullpen coach, I've been a bench coach, haven't been a hitting coach. I was a pitching coach for two weeks in Montreal one year. So I filled all these various positions. I looked at my job when I was the bench coach for Art (Howe) in a certain way, and I wanted those guys to do that job for me. Four years in Oakland, I had four different bench coaches.

Q. Will this be kind of a wild spring training for you because you're going to be looking at a lot of guys you've never seen before, and you told us at your introductory press conference and then again today that you really would like to make judgments from what you see, not what you hear?

A. Correct.

Q. I mean, six weeks is a long time, but in a way it's not.

A. That's true, and here again, you know, you look at the track record a lot of players have. Position-wise, again, I hate to keep pounding that drum, there's not going to be a whole lot. I'm going to be watching those guys there. The decisions that are going to be made are in the pitching area.

Q. You said you delved deeply into the scouting reports on the other teams. What do you think about the division, particularly the Cubs, who are obviously the king of the hill right now?

A. Well, a whole bunch of rumors, (Jake) Peavy is coming and (Randy) Johnson is gone, all that stuff. I'm pretty familiar with the Cubs. They've got a very strong team. I think their pitching is just off the charts good, OK, and then Peavy would be something else. But Rich Harden and Ted Lilly pitched for me, and I kind of followed them quite a bit. One thing about being in Pittsburgh, I saw a lot of the games from the division. I watched a lot of games in Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee did very well against the Pirates this year.

Q. After years of being a whipping boy, they (Brewers) couldn't win there to save their butts.

A. Yeah, they did very well there. Cardinals, you know, a lot of respect for Tony LaRussa and the job he does and Dave Duncan with their pitching. I think they had a remarkable year this past year. Everybody kind of wrote them off. Reds are starting to put together a pretty good rotation. It comes down to pitching, so that's what the thing is in this division, and the Pirates--it looks like they traded a couple of their good pieces away in (Jason) Bay and (Xavier) Nady and it looks like they want to move (Jack) Wilson so they might still be. But I look at their rotation, and some of those guys have pitched well. Zach Duke had a great year several years ago, hasn't the last couple years; Ian Snell was a top line guy, didn't have a very good year last year; and (Tom) Gorzelanny pitched very well, (Matt) Capps has done great out of the bullpen. So they've got some pitching pieces in place. (Nate) McLouth wins a Gold Glove and hits some home runs, he came out of nowhere, so you never know.

Q. What do you think about Houston, they kind of came on at the end?

A. Houston, probably I'm least familiar with them than I am with the other clubs. But here again, they've got a couple good pitchers down there also. How do I see the division? Let's see, they've got some big-name managers in there, myself not included, but (Dusty) Baker and LaRussa and (Lou) Piniella (laughter).

Q. You're leaving out the former Brewer, Cecil Cooper.

A. Cooper, yeah. I'm just saying the big-name guys.

Q. Do you buy that there's a certifiably different style of play in the National League?

A. Oh, I think there is. We played the interleague eight years in Oakland as a coach, too. But we're relying a little bit more on--you never produce runs and steal bases and aggressive on the base paths. And in our division Mike Scioscia relies on that a little bit, too. The guys are aggressive and stealing bases and if you're not holding them they make you pay and they squeeze bunt and all that stuff, too. I do think there's a different style of play. But I can liken, because of what I said earlier, there's five players in this lineup that can hit 25, 30 home runs that liken this club to an American League club because of that.

Q. When you come in as the new manager of this club, or a veteran manager in your own right, what kind of tone do you look to set? What is the basic premise that you want to proceed from?

A. Well, I think what you need to do is let these players know what is important to you, OK, playing good, fundamental baseball is important to me. Going out there and grinding it out every day is important to me. Putting a good day's work in every day and trying to improve is important to me. I believe in process. If you've got to think of what you're going to do every day to get yourself better, go out there and follow that process. And if you follow that process over the course of the whole year, you're going to be pleased with the results, whatever the results are. So to me, figure out what you need to do every day to get yourself better, go out there and play hard, prepare yourself properly, and you're going to get the most out of what you have.

Q. Have you settled on a place in Milwaukee yet, or does that come later?

A. Not yet. We were talking about that on the way down. I think he's got me a houseboat out on the lake. Just kidding.

Q. You have one of the best facilities in baseball in Miller Park?

A. Yeah, I just think that's such a plus, a dome stadium. I know they're going to build a non-dome stadium in Minnesota, and that makes it tough. You're unsure whether they're going to play and all that stuff. I thought when the Houston Astrodome opened and I was with the Expos for a number of years, you knew you were going to play and there was going to be no rain delays and you were going to set up your pitching rotation and it was all going to fall into place. Basically Oakland was like that, too. You're not going to get rained out in Anaheim and places like that. I look at Seattle's dome and say, ‘That's perfect, good weather, you move it out of the way and you've got the sunshine coming in and all that stuff,' so I'm good with the dome.

Q. You seem like you're a little understated in a lot of ways. Does that change if things--you don't like what you see on the field in your team? What do you see your emotions--like when is the right time to show that?

A. My emotions? If you're looking for me to jump up and down, it's not going to happen. That's not happening. I mean, I'm very excited about this opportunity and I'm excited about the team. … I think everybody has their own way of getting their point across, put it that way. I don't know if I'm going to go out and throw my hat down and kick it all over the infield like Piniella does. I don't think that's going to happen.

Q. You used the word teacher to describe your job earlier. Can you expand on that? What does that mean to you?

A. Well, you kind of look at the background. I described all different aspects that I had coached, ran spring training for 10 years in the Major Leagues, and then in the minor leagues you've got to stand at one station and teach everybody--six teams come through, you're going to teach everybody the first and second bunt plays, six different teams. So through all that experience, I've learned how to teach guys how to block balls, run the bases, hit the cut-off man, run-down plays, look for pitches in situations, how to use your fastball, how to get your change-up put in there and all that stuff. So everything that I have done has put me in a position where I had an experience somewhere in almost all aspects of the game, and I think I can go out there and give some of that knowledge to the guys. Now, you can go out there and give it; they've got to accept it, too.

Q. You kind of pointed out that you've got your position guys set. Can you be successful with two left-handed bats?

A. You know what, I played in Montreal, and we had one left-handed bat in '79 and '80. I was a player on the team. I didn't play a whole lot, and we had only one left-handed hitter on the whole team. We lost in '79 to the Pirates on the last day of the season, and they won the World Series, and we lost to the Phillies on the next-to-last day of the season in '80 and they won the World Series that year, so they were two pretty good teams. If you're worried about left-handed, right-handed, no, you just want guys in your lineup who can hit.


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