It’s not Ron Roenicke’s fault that the Milwaukee Brewers are 7-18, but if he’s absolved of the blame when the team plays poorly, nor does he deserve credit for the division title the team won in his first year as manager. In examining the circumstances that resulted in his ouster, Roenicke was fired out of convenience.
In defense of Roenicke, the manager’s job is smack in the center of the spotlight when things go poorly; when players underperform; when injuries happen and it’s mostly in a negative light. The Brewers have good players whose numbers have been consistent year-in/year-out. They’ve gotten off to a terrible start and it cost Roenicke his job. What he could have done about it is a mystery. Veteran players have their own pace and are, generally, left alone by the manager. If they don’t perform, what’s the manager to do?
Validating the decision to make a change, the Brewers can still save the season making it reasonable to jettison him now before the deficit is too deep to overcome. It’s early enough that there’s a lesser chance of the veterans pulling the “screw this” card, going through the motions to get the season over with.
Roenicke’s replacement, Craig Counsell, was a grinder as a player and has made the rounds as a front office executive, potential hitting coach and manager. He’s on the same page with general manager Doug Melvin and will evaluate what’s currently on the roster from inside the clubhouse to determine whether this can be salvaged or it’s time to clean house. They have players other teams would want including Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Garza, Francisco Rodriguez, and Kyle Lohse. Or they could look at the parity-laden state of baseball today and wait to see if the change ignites the team and they can jump back into the race. It’s happened before.
Bob Nightengale said on Twitter that owner Mark Attanasio lost patience. In truth, Attanasio, while an engaged owner, is not an overt meddler on a level with Jeffrey Loria. He spurred the mid-September firing of Ned Yost in 2008 when it was clear that the Brewers’ season was spiraling out of control. Dale Sveum calmed the ship, ended the swirling speculation regarding Yost, and screeched to a halt the panic that was engulfing the team to get them to the playoffs. While it might have been unfair not to let Yost complete the rebuild he oversaw, those Brewers had traded for CC Sabathia and were in pure go-for-it mode. They made a decision to save the season and in spite of losing in the NLDS to the Philadelphia Phillies, it worked.
The Brewers knew what they were getting when they hired Roenicke. Managers tend to mimic those they’ve worked for and with. As a branch of the Mike Scioscia/Tom Lasorda managing tree, Roenicke ran the club in a strategically similar fashion to Scioscia and Lasorda. He wanted innings from his starters; had a defined manner in which he used his relievers; and he favored an inside baseball, old-school National League-style of play.
Unfortunately for him, he’s missing fundamental aspects of those two mentors and it contributed to his downfall. Without the foul mouth and outgoing personality of Lasorda and the stoic, fatherly intimidation of Scioscia, when the club began to unravel, there wasn’t much for Roenicke to do other than hope that his players’ talent would revert to normal.
Roenicke wasn’t the in-your-face type. If he ran in and flipped the food table, ripped players in the media, or cussed out reporters like Bryan Price, it would have been a transparent attempt to do something different. It might have been perceived as the unhinged, “the pressure is getting to me” response of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time. Roenicke didn’t do any of that. He stayed the same when they were winning and losing and it’s an admirable, honorable way to go down – one that might get him another managing job, eventually.
While Roenicke made strange maneuvers as a manager and was more of an empty uniform sitting at the end of the dugout than an inspirational leader, he still had a mid-market club with payroll limitations finish over .500 in three of his four full seasons including that one playoff appearance. He was in trouble last season after the Brewers’ fast start and collapse down the stretch. They brought him back. Like this horrid first month, there’s an ongoing, mirror-image exaggeration as to what the team was in 2014 and is in 2015. They weren’t that good a year ago when, at this time, they were 21-11 and they’re not as bad as 7-18 today. Roenicke was replaceable, so they replaced him. In part, it was Roenicke’s lack of pretense that did him in.