Ron Roenicke’s firing was out of convenience


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.

The Brewers Had Better Win This Year

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I’d scarcely remembered hearing Brewers manager Ron Roenicke talk before last night’s NLCS game 2 between the Cardinals and Brewers.

Now I know why.

During his in-game interview on TBS, it became crystal clear why the Brewers on-field behaviors are so out-of-control that they’ve become despised throughout the league.

Apart from Brewers (and presumably Cubs) fans, everyone wants to see them lose to a Cardinals team that, prior to this series, wasn’t exactly a contender for Miss Congeniality.

Tony LaRussa clubs aren’t well-liked because they play old-school and on the edge—they’re not out there to make friends; they’re out there to beat you. The Brewers are reviled because they think they’re better than they are; they behave as if they’ve won 5 championships; and are so overt in their celebrations that their arrogance is palpable.

On the Brewers roster are three players who have championship rings: Francisco Rodriguez, Craig Counsell and Jerry Hairston Jr.

One self-interested pitcher—whose reputation isn’t sterling in any context—and two utility players.

I doubt their voices carry much weight—literally or figuratively—in that clubhouse.

The player with the weight, Prince Fielder, is running things and he’s a sullen, mercurial individual who has come through for his club, but is also the one who has to be viewed as the catalyst for the Brewers act.

Nyjer Morgan can be referenced as the “attitude” behind the Brewers, but it all stems from Fielder. If he told Morgan to tone it down, Morgan would tone it down.

Roenicke is so soft-spoken and understated that the only way to judge him is the way his team behaves. There are managers who don’t say much in the Gil Hodges tradition, but players know not to muck with them and are aware that the manager is in charge.

Roenicke is just sort of there in the Bob Brenly scope of a manager hired not to screw it up. And he hasn’t. Yet.

He had a resume of managing in the minors and was on a well-respected coaching staff for a strong-handed manager Mike Scioscia.

But Scioscia’s teams don’t disrespect their opponents and the game the way these Brewers do.

They can defend “The Beast” silliness in which they raise their arms when they do….whatever; say that it’s all in good fun. But it’s offensive; and what makes it worse is that these players have accomplished absolutely nothing to warrant it. There are teams that expect to win and behave appropriately when they do; and there are teams for whom circumstances have coalesced into a perfect storm so their results are better than the reality.

The Brewers loaded up on starting pitching with Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke joining Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf; they brought in an All Star closer in K-Rod to set-up for John Axford; their two main bashers Ryan Braun and Fielder have carried them beyond a terrible defense and top-heavy lineup.

Teams like this can win with a weak manager, but they’re not in it for the long haul because Fielder’s not coming back after this season and once the novelty wears off and they need discipline, Roenicke isn’t going to be able to provide it.

The potential championship is worth the compromises they’ve made. But they’d better get that championship this year because it’s the only chance this group is going to have.

All of baseball is watching.

And rooting against them.