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.