The future looks bright with up and coming stars like these three! Edwards’ twin brother Mike played in the A’s system, and younger brother Dave plays for the Twins. A bit of irony that the one Edwards brother who isn’t a twin plays for the Twins?
A day off today? Not fair for any pundit trying to gauge this team. It is far too easy to take this down time to proclaim the Brewers a new team under interim manager Harvey Kuenn.
So I won’t do it.
What do we know? We know that Buck Rodgers was a bad fit. We tried to accept him for a while. We blamed a bad attitude here, bad luck there. But Brewers fans have collectively come to the realization that the reason for their team’s under performance may have been much easier to explain than we thought.
When rumors surfaced of Rodgers’ demise weeks ago, you couldn’t find a player who had their manager’s back. And whether it was Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons, Mike Caldwell, Pete Vuckovich, Roy Howell, Jim Gantner or the countless other malcontents, someone was always spouting off.
Players weren’t happy. They didn’t respect their manager. The inmates were running the asylum, and they were plenty crazy. Should it be any wonder that they played below expectations?
Roy Howell is a role player. He never understood his role. As a result, he was never happy when each day passed by and he wasn’t on the lineup card. Isn’t this a communication issue? Howell should never be surprised about when he will or will not be playing.
Buck Rodgers lacked confidence in his starting pitchers, often giving them the hook rather than letting them fight their way through jams. Based on complaints from Mike Caldwell, it’s also possible that he lacked respect for pitchers in general. Is it any wonder that the rotation as a whole has been shaky?
In steps Harvey Kuenn, destination unknown. He’s known as a loose leader, one who wants his players to relax and have fun. He’s a communicator. He’s everything that Buck Rodgers wasn’t.
The change, whether directly or indirectly, resulted in a win. One win in one game. But what we saw were things we had seen rarely during the past two months. A starter fought through his own jam and pitched a complete game, shutting down the opposition during the final three innings. The offense was timely, collecting 12 hits. And the defense didn’t commit an error.
Most importantly? The players are happy. For the most part, that was rarely the case under Rodgers, even after a win.
Soon after being fired, Rodgers didn’t hold back when referring to two cancers on the team. Given the time to cool off, he hasn’t backed down: “I can’t say too emphatically how good this club is, except for a couple of players. I know who they are, the players know who they are and the front office knows who they are. They may have tried to stab me in the back, but they didn’t get me fired. They’ve stabbed everyone they’ve been involved with in the past, and they’ll do the same in the future.”
We shouldn’t be surprised about reports surfacing that Mike Caldwell, during a card game on the May 30 flight after a 7-3 win over the Angels, said, “I hope we lose 10 games in a row just to get rid of that sucker.”
The Brewers are littered with strong personalities. They need someone to lead them. They don’t need someone who is paranoid, constantly worried about who is trying to stab them in the back. This happens when a leader fails to communicate or loses the respect of his team.
Does one win mean that the Brewers are World Series bound? Absolutely not. At .500 and in fifth place in the AL East, it may be too late to completely repair the damage. But there is every reason to believe that the atmosphere in the Brewers clubhouse is going to improve. The results should follow.
In other words, I just wrote an entire article doing what I said I wouldn’t in the opening paragraph. I have proclaimed the Brewers a new team after one game.
That’s what a day off will do to you.
SEATTLE — There’s no way to know if switching managers after 47 games will make a difference over the long haul for the Milwaukee Brewers. We don’t have a time machine. But today, in Harvey Kuenn‘s managerial debut, it did.
It’s possible that whether Kuenn or Buck Rodgers managed this team today, the offense would have performed the same. The Brewers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second on an RBI groundout by Ben Oglivie. They increased the lead to two when Marshall Edwards scored on a Little League home run, a triple that led to a run due to a Mariners error. Cecil Cooper made it 3-1 with an RBI single in the sixth, and after the Mariners pulled to within one Cooper added a two-run homer in the eighth.
That’s what you’ll see in the box score. You’ll also see that the Brewers didn’t commit an error in this game, a rarity under Rodgers. But what you won’t see — or might miss — is what happened to Mike Caldwell in the sixth. Or, more precisely, what didn’t happen to him.
Richie Zisk opened the frame with a double to left and Al Cowens followed with a single up the middle to put runners on first and third with no one out in a 3-1 game. Former manager Buck Rodgers was notorious for taking out pitchers early when they got into trouble, often prematurely. He earned the nickname “Captain Hook” as a result.
Caldwell pitched the rest of the game, throwing three hitless innings and retiring nine of 10 batters. He retired 11 of 12 since the two consecutive hits in the sixth.
It was Caldwell’s third complete game of the season and the first time he’s pitched into the ninth since May 8. Yesterday, Rodgers referred to two “cancers” on the team, and many believe one of those players is Caldwell. You cannot underestimate the emotional lift a change in leadership can have on a player like Caldwell.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a new season right now,” said Caldwell. “I’m going to be busting my tail and hoping I can add to what I think is a new team spirit.”
Is today’s game a sign that Harvey will go longer with the starters?
“I would say yes,” he said. “I would say they have to have confidence they can get somebody out in a tough situation. To me, if they’re throwing the ball as well in the eighth inning as when they started, there’s no reason they can’t get the guy out. To me it doesn’t make any difference than if you don’t get the guy out in the second in a tough situation. What difference does it make in the eighth? They wouldn’t be in that situation if they didn’t get them out in the second.”
Follow that? It could be brilliant or it could be gibberish. But today, it worked.
Kuenn continued: “I think Mike was throwing the ball exceptionally well. I think he was throwing as well in the eighth and ninth as he was early in the ball game.”
That’s tough to argue. Through yesterday, the Brewers were a team in disarray, lacking leadership and overflowing with discontent. They were a tight, excitable bunch that lacked execution and accountability. But they were talented.
Today, we saw a new team. We saw a confident team. We saw a team that was loose and able to execute. We saw a complete team.
Will it only last a day? Only time will tell. But this was a good start.
Game Notes: Gorman Thomas‘ shoulder is getting better, and he hit a couple of homers during batting practice. No decision yet on whether he’ll be put on the disabled list … Moose Haas’ elbow tendinitis is well enough to pitch in the June 4 series opener against the A’s … Pitching coach Cal McLish, who has been dealing with health problems, will rejoin the team next week.
SEATTLE — The Brewers don’t play until 9:30 Milwaukee time, but there has already been a day’s worth of news about the team. Buck Rodgers was fired, and he went down swinging. Without naming names, Rodgers referred to a couple of “cancers” on the team.
So what to the players think about the change in leadership?
Mike Caldwell, who many believe is one of the “cancers” that Rodgers referred to, thinks that his former manager didn’t give the pitchers equal billing on the team: “He’s the one who said we didn’t have a team leader. He mentioned several players who could be leaders. None of them were pitchers. I think there are some pretty good pitchers around here who have the guts and integrity, who are the types who could be leaders.”
Cecil Cooper: “I think we needed a change. Not necessarily the manager, but something had to be done. We’re not a .500 team. Harvey told us if something is bothering us to come in and we’d talk about it. That might have been harder with Buck. Guys didn’t feel relaxed with him.”
Just two days ago, Jim Gantner seemed to know what was coming. Always willing to speak his mind, he had this to say: “You can’t fire 25 players. Sometimes the manager’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s really too bad. We’re going to have to do something to shake up this club. I’m not saying fire the manager, but something has to be done to shake up the club. Make some changes somehow. That’s not my decision, though, that’s the front office.”
Little did Gantner know, that decision was in the process of being made.
SEATTLE — Contacted for his comments on being fired as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers today, Buck Rodgers tried to be diplomatic.
On whether he feels like he failed: “Sure, there’s a little sense of failure. I thought this club could win. I’ve never failed in my life. I don’t like to fail. But that’s all part of the game, you know that. It wasn’t exactly unexpected. I’ve had my mind made up for the last two weeks it might happen.”
Then Rodgers decided that if he were going to go down, he’d take someone with him. He went down swinging.
“I think there are a couple of cancers on the club,” he said, not mentioning their names. “I think you’ve got 18 or 19 players who want to win. You’ve got three or four who will go any way the wind blows. I’m not going to name the cancers, and I’m not going to name the ones who blow with the wind.”
If you’re going to go down swinging, you might as well throw the full punch. We’re left guessing about the two players he’s speaking of, but those following the team tend to believe they are Mike Caldwell and Ted Simmons.
Caldwell was often a critic of the way Rodgers handled pitchers. In fact, as recently as May 23, he made this comment to the press following a loss to the Mariners: “I don’t know. I’m just a player. I’m just trying to do my job. I don’t know if I’m getting a chance to do it.”
The Brewers also tried unsuccessfully to trade Caldwell during the winter. Knowing that the team didn’t want him likely didn’t make relationships with management or his performance on the field any easier. Caldwell is sporting a disappointing 2-4 record and 4.70 ERA.
While Ted Simmons didn’t provide the juicy quotes like Caldwell, he and Rodgers did not see eye-to-eye. Rodgers, a former catcher who prided himself on his defensive ability, was thought to prefer Ned Yost and Charlie Moore as defensive backstops. Simmons has yet to live up to the hype as an offensive producer either, and Rodgers may even prefer Don Money or Roy Howell as the DH.
In other words, Simmons was forced upon him, and Rodgers wanted him off of the team. Some believed that if Simmons stayed with the team all season, Rodgers would quit.
If Rodgers wasn’t referring to one or both of Caldwell and Simmons, he may also have been talking about Roy Howell. Howell has received very little playing time and has been a thorn in the side of the team since spring training. Unable to trade him, Howell has sulked and thrown tantrums while producing very little.
Not Howell? It could also be Gorman Thomas, Rollie Fingers or Pete Vuckovich. But at this point, we’re reaching. And to be honest, it’s why making the comment without naming names is a cowardice act. We’re left guessing who it is he was talking about and now we’re dragging potentially innocent names through the mud.
SEATTLE — In a position that may last only a matter of weeks, hitting coach Harvey Kuenn has been named interim manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Why “interim?” Only the Brewers know the true answer to that question. But here are a few possibilities:
1) The Brewers have someone else in mind as the new full-time manager, but a contract has not yet been signed. Buck Rodgers reached the end of his rope (even beyond, if you listen to most Brewers fans), but the formalities are not yet in place to announce the replacement. Given that Kuenn is going to serve dual roles as the hitting coach and manager may be a clue that he is simply keeping someone else’s seat warm. But Kuenn has been a coach with the Brewers since 1971, so he knows the players. He’s at least a good stop-gap solution.
But as we discussed earlier today, who that full-time solution might be is a mystery. Unless the report that Sal Bando isn’t ready to manage is false (which is entirely possible), the other candidates aren’t all that clear.
2) Kuenn’s health concerns prevent the Brewers from committing to him for more than the short term. In fact, the Brewers have said as much. Harvey had his leg amputated prior to the 1980 season, but that is only one in a long line of serious health problems that have nagged him. Only 51, he’s also undergone stomach and heart bypass surgeries.
The Brewers probably don’t want to put the pressure of managing this team for the long haul on Kuenn. Or they want to at least see how he handles it. But quite frankly, it’s likely that his health will not allow him to manage the Brewers for the entirety of the 1982 season.
3) It’s all a formality. This is really nothing new. Often when managers are fired and a replacement is promoted from within, they are given an interim tag. This way, the team gets to observe him on the job before making a long-term commitment after the season is over. If the team succeeds, he stays. If they don’t, they find a “real” manager.
So, who is Harvey Kuenn? He’s a career .303 hitter with the Tigers, Giants and Indians, playing from 1952-66. He led the league in hits four times, was the 1959 batting champion with a .353 average and won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1953. With 2,092 career hits, he’s a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, kept out only by a career that declined too soon.
Kuenn, known as “Arch” or “Archie” by many close to him, is likely to have a contrasting managing style to Rodgers, which was bound to be appealing to the Brewers’ brass. He’s close to the players and a good communicator, though that can always change when put into a position of power.
Actually, let’s let him explain how he expects the atmosphere to change: “I like the club to have a good time, be loose, have a laugh,” he said. “But I can be tough if I have to. They all know that.”
How will Kuenn right the ship? “I arrived at getting more harmony on the ballclub,” he explained. “Getting everybody to pull together and pull as one person.”
Sounds good, but often easier said than done. Particularly with this moody bunch.