Monday, November 3, 2008

Ken Macha

Ken Macha was born on Friday, September 29, 1950, in Monroeville. He played ball for the Gateway Gators and Pitt, and hit the hometown trifecta when the Pirates selected him sixth in the 1972 draft.

Macha was the Eastern League batting champ in 1974 with the Thetford Mines Pirates, batting .345 with 21 homers, 100 RBI, and stealing 22 bags in 27 tries. One of his teammates was pitcher Doug Melvin, and that bit of fate would eventually prove handy.

At the age of 23, he made it to the show on September 14, 1974, with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a September call-up that season, going 3-5. He wouldn't return to the big leagues until 1977, when the Bucs brought him back up as a reserve.

Macha was an infielder (actually, the dude was everywhere, playing both corner OF spots, 1B, 3B, and even catching a few games) with the Pirates, Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays for six seasons (1974, 1977-81), strictly as a bench-warmer.

He hit a combined .258 in 180 MLB games, and also spent four years in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons.

Macha retired as a player in 1985 and joined the Expos as a major league coach in 1986. He spent six seasons with the Expos before moving to the California Angels as bullpen and later third base coach. He then joined the Boston Red Sox organization in the fall of 1994.

By 1997, he was managing the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. Before that, he skippered the AA Trenton Thunder to back-to-back first place finishes. Macha was chosen as 1996 Eastern League Manager of the Year, and picked to manage the AA All-Star game.

Macha left the BoSox and joined the A's as a bench coach, serving under former Pirate teammate Art Howe from 1999 through 2002. In March 2002, the A's denied permission for the Red Sox to talk to Macha about their managerial vacancy. Boston then hired Grady Little, and Macha spent another season as a coach.

It worked out OK for him. He was tapped to succeed Howe, who became skipper of the New York Mets after the 2002 season ended. From 2003-2006, Macha ran up a 368-260 record with Oakland, almost a 57% winning percentage.

He led them to the AL Western Division championship in his first season and followed that with second-place finishes in both 2004 and 2005. The A's once again captured the AL Western Division championship in 2006.

It was anything but a smooth road. Macha was a baseball lifer who did things his way, straightforward and direct. GM Billy Beane loved the nuances of numbers, a stratagem that uniquely lends itself to baseball. It came to a head after the 2005 season.

Macha's three year deal was done, and it looked like there was no way he and Beane would again crawl into the same bed together.

He made overtures to the Pirates, who were busy looking for Lloyd McClendon's replacement. To this day, no one is absolutely certain if he jilted them, McClatchy passed him over, or he was just working Beane. No one's talkin'.

But a week after his Oakland deal looked dead in the water, Billy Beane did a 180 and signed Macha up for another year before other suitors could. The A's won the division, but after being swept by the Tigers in the playoffs, Macha was out the door for good. He was fired on October 16th, two days after the Tiger debacle.

Beane said that the reason was a "disconnect at several levels" between Macha and his team, with the player ringleader allegedly being Pittsburgh's own Jason Kendall.

Seattle offered him a job as Mike Hargrove's right hand man after the ax dropped, but Macha said he'd rather take the year off and regroup.

They countered with a deal for him to become a senior adviser to Mariners GM Bill Bavasi, but he had other plans. On April 2007, Macha took a position as an analyst for New England Sports Network, which airs Boston Red Sox games. It's pretty ironic that a guy that supposedly couldn't communicate became a talking head.

Good career move? You betcha. On October 30, 2008, Doug Melvin, Milwaukee GM and old Thetford Mines pitcher, announced Macha as the Brew Crews' new manager, inking him to a 2-year contract, good through the 2010 season. In fact, Melvin wanted him in 2003, but the A's kept him and the Brewers brought in Ned Yost.

Melvin played up the redemption bit in explaining the hiring. He used Terry Francona, Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel as proof positive that managers who get a second bite at the apple can win titles.

Macha himself quickly tried to dispel the rap that he lost touch with his players in Oakland, especially Jason Kendall, who as fate would have it is now the Brewers catcher.

"I've got a couple things to say about that. No. 1, the job of the manager is really not to be buddies with all the players" Macha told the AP. "You have to make very difficult decisions over the course of the year. Sometimes players...think it's personal. It really isn't."

For his part, Kendall is more than willing to kiss and make up.

"That whole thing got blown way out of proportion," Kendall explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "His track record speaks for itself. He's a great baseball man. I think it was more miscommunication between him and the general manager."

Kendall also said he enjoyed playing for Macha, and Macha threw some love back by saying that "Jason Kendall won't be a problem."

Maybe he won't, but if they lose CC and Ben Sheets and have to deal Prince Fielder...well, that might be a problem. But at least he didn't lose the job to Jim Tracy this time.

Macha lives in Murrysville during the offseason with his family, and is a cousin of Tiger HoF pitcher Hal Newhouser. He also sports a degree in civil engineering as well as a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do. So if the Brewer gig doesn't work out, hey, at least he should be one heckuva kick-butt engineer if he ever needs a day job.


WilliamJPellas said...

Jason Kendall---the selfless, wholesome, mature individual that he so obviously is---JASON KENDALL threw Macha under the bus??? SAY IT AIN'T SO!!!

Ron Ieraci said...

Ah, Jason will play nice for Kenny this year. After all, he's at the point of his career when he should be looking at coaching instead of catching pretty dang soon.

WilliamJPellas said...

Maybe so, but he's still a colossal jerk, if numerous reports and anecdotes I've seen and heard are any indication. Who really knows with any celebrity, of course, but that's certainly the consensus.

WilliamJPellas said...

On a happier note, I had no idea Ken Macha was such an accomplished individual. He's certainly a Renaissance Man. True story: I had a teacher in high school who used to go golfing with Ken. He told us once that Macha could hit a golf ball 400 yards on the fly. "A fifth of a mile", he said. I believe it. Do you know anything about Macha's golfing prowess? And, I always wondered why he didn't get more of a shot in the bigs. What have you heard on that score?

Ron Ieraci said...

Not much speed or athleticism, and zippo power at the MLB level - he played the corners because he was a catcher in the minors. So he was pretty much the classic overachiever, the perfect mold for a manager.
He'll be interesting as a skipper, supposedly a very organized guy, very direct (some say blunt) with the players, and a hybrid between AL and NL philosophies. He plays for the big inning early, and small ball late.
I'll ask my wife if she remembers anything about him; she went to high school with him, tho I think she was a class or two behind.

WilliamJPellas said...

Odd that his decent speed and power, at least at lower minor league levels, did not translate to the bigs.