Macha: An A for effort
Rookie manager demands hustle
SEATTLE -- He could have been Grady Little. In spring 2002, in the hours after the Red Sox fired Joe Kerrigan, the Sox asked for permission to talk to Oakland's coach, Ken Macha. And why not? Macha had been a loyal Sox minor league manager for four seasons. He supervised the progress of Trot Nixon, Nomar Garciaparra, and Lou Merloni, among others. A man with a civil engineering degree from the University of Pittsburgh, a respected coach with the ever-contending A's, a veteran of the Sox system, Macha was a natural candidate to be the first manager of the John W. Henry/Larry Lucchino regime.
But Oakland GM Billy Beane said no. The Sox could not interview Art Howe's trusted lieutenant.
"I wasn't pleased," recalled Macha. "Who would be? We [the A's and Macha] had several discussions, but I guess it's their right to be able to do that."
Beane remembered, "Kenny was obviously disappointed. The Red Sox job is a great job. It's a premium job in sports, and I think he was disappointed because he had considered himself a manager. My response was, `I guarantee you will be managing in the big leagues within one year.' "
A year later, Art Howe left the A's for the Mets, and Beane appointed Macha manager of the Oakland A's.
The 53-year-old rookie skipper had a pretty good managerial debut. His A's won 96 games, taking the American League West for the third time in four years.
"He's been great," said Beane. "We weren't looking to overhaul things or change the way the game is managed. Obviously, by the results, he's done an incredible job. I just keep telling him to relax because I know he puts a lot of pressure on himself."
Now that the year is over and the A's are AL West champs, Macha finally can reflect.
"I've known Felipe Alou for a long time," he said. "He was a coach when I played in Montreal. He's one of the finest gentlemen you could ever be around. As great a manager as Felipe is, this is the first time he's in the playoffs, and how lucky am I? I called Felipe to congratulate him." While Alou's Giants will be playing the Florida Marlins, Macha's A's will be jousting with a lot of the players Macha guided when he was a minor league manager.
Pitching the basics Addressing the Boston-Oakland connections for this upcoming series, Macha said, "Everybody can sit down and write about all this intrigue -- Billy Beane, who almost went to Boston. And me. There's all kinds of stuff. But the basic fact is this: The team that goes out and plays the best baseball? They're going to win.
"We've been in the playoffs three times. We had the Yankees down, 2-0 [in 2001]. We didn't slide [Jeremy Giambi on the Derek Jeter relay at the plate]. In Game 5, we threw the ball all over the place. And we didn't play good enough baseball against the Twins last year. We have to go out and play good baseball, and I'm hoping we'll play with the intensity we played with over the last six weeks.
"We need to play the same defense that we've played, with the same hustle. Boston's got a great team. I respect their players, I've been around those guys. Those guys go out and play hard. They absolutely do, but it's going to come down to whoever goes out and plays best."
Macha grew up in Pittsburgh and played professionally for 14 seasons with the Pirates, Expos, and Blue Jays organizations. An infielder, he played 180 games in the majors, hitting one homer with a batting average of .258. In 1986, he was named to Buck Rodgers's coaching staff in Montreal, and he still cites Rodgers as one of his great influences.It was in Montreal that Macha caught the eye of Expos executive Dan Duquette. Macha followed the Duke to the Boston organization in 1995 and managed four minor league seasons (two in Trenton, two in Pawtucket), winning the International League's Manager of the Year award with the 1998 PawSox. He hoped to join the Sox as a big-league coach in 1999 but first took a call from the A's. J.P. Ricciardi, then an assistant with the A's, had seen a lot of Macha and recommended he join the Oakland organization. When the A's called, Duquette granted permission. Macha's been with Oakland ever since.
He interviewed for managing jobs with the Pirates, Blue Jays, and Reds but never got offers. Then came the call from the new Sox ownership and the disappointment when Beane wouldn't let him meet with the Red Sox.
Macha said, "I figured the best way to get to where I wanted to be was to do the best job I could do for the ball club that year. Concentrate on the job I had. Fortunately, things worked out."
A bit more hands-on Macha is a little more strict than Howe. He's not Bill Fitch, but he's not K.C. Jones, either.
Scott Hatteberg, Oakland's first baseman and No. 5 hitter, said, "He's a very bright guy who comes across as well-prepared. He's seems a little dry, but he's not. He has a real good sense of humor. I think he's just a little more structured. Art Howe was pretty much just `put the lineup up and let's play.' Macha is a little more hands-on, a little more structured. He puts the responsibility on us and lets us do it."
Miguel Tejada, last year's MVP, added, "It's an unbelievable job he's done, because this team has been through a lot this year."
That includes Tejada's six-week slump to start the season. Overall, the A's haven't hit, and most experts thought they were done when starter Mark Mulder was lost for the year with a hip injury. Seattle was in first place for 135 days and built a five-game lead in August. Macha's men went into overdrive after Mulder was lost, winning 10 straight. They eventually overtook the Mariners, just as they did last year.
"We've had adversity this year," Macha said. "We've had injuries. We've had bad batting averages. We've had all kinds of stuff, but guys never gave up. That first game in Boston when Mulder said he couldn't go anymore, that was a crushing blow, but these guys picked it up after that. We had a little meeting in Toronto, and I told the guys, `Hey, I love Mark Mulder, but he's not the whole team.' We need to go out there and play with certain parts of our body dragging on the ground, and that's what they did."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.