The first spring training under a new manager leads to all kinds of feel-good stories about how things will be different, how much better the new camp feels, and how the future is bright. Ryan Braun hit most of those topics shortly after showing up to camp while talking about Ron Roenicke. Of course, it’s hard to say those things without making the previous guy feel slighted.
Judging by the way Ken Macha reacted to Braun’s comments, he definitely seems to feel that way.
Before we get too far into this, here’s what Braun told Tom Haudricourt about the new atmosphere under Roenicke, compared to last season with Macha:
“My confidence never wavered but overall the baseball experience last year was not positive,” he said. “Ultimately, I think we were all fighting the negativity and the overall situation we were dealing with. I always try to be as positive and optimistic as I can but the whole environment and atmosphere, not necessarily with the players, was negative. … It felt worse than it was. It felt like we lost 100 games. It’s a thousand times different now. The whole atmosphere, the whole environment is much more positive. There’s just an aura of excitement.”
There are a couple ways to interpret this. One, Braun is merely excited about the new year like any other player in the game, and he’s looking forward to putting last year in the past. This seems reasonable enough. I think most rational people without an axe to grind would look at it this way.
Of course, there’s a second interpretation. The one that takes Braun’s media savvy into consideration, thinking about how carefully he typically crafts his answers. Like a politician, he typically talks in soundbites, and sometimes you have to read in between the lines to get at what he’s really saying. If you look at it that way, maybe you could perceive those comments as a subtle shot at the previous regime.
It seems that’s the way Ken Macha is interpreting it.
“…as far as Braun’s comments are concerned. (Prince) Fielder, (Corey) Hart, (Casey) McGehee, Rickie Weeks and Braun, all those guys – five guys – had their best years playing under me. So, if they felt like there was oppression or it was a down atmosphere they all played great, their numbers are as good or better than they had any other year.”
Even if this isn’t Macha taking credit for some big years by the players he mentioned, it could at least possibly be perceived that way. Being totally clear was always a problem for Macha during his time in Milwaukee, and it goes back to his problems with communication. Macha tried to address those criticisms, too, but comes off as a poor communicator while trying to explain why he isn’t one:
“Last year in spring training I tried the best I could to reach out to these guys and let them know where I was coming from,” Macha said. “And I brought each one of the players in and spoke to them individually and I said to them, ‘Look, I know a lot more about you than you know about me so I’m going to lay it out on what my upbringing was and what drives me as a manager and why I emphasize different things.'”
Credit should be given to Macha for at least making an effort, but that is something that should have been done during his first spring with the Brewers, not after a disappointing season.
This is one area where Macha and Roenicke are fundamentally different. Roenicke has reached out to players before camp even began, trying to build relationships and come to an understanding about how things will be run. Macha, meanwhile, made a big deal about coming into camp as a blank slate. He didn’t want his player evaluations to be influenced by personal feelings, and on the surface that sounds great. It becomes a problem in practice when players don’t know where you’re coming from.
“I reached out to these players, every one of them. Ryan Braun in particular, in my office for two hours explaining to him where I was from, letting him know that this door is open, come in here all the time.· And when it was all said and done the guy came in once or twice during the course of the year and then has got some negative comments to say afterwards.”
One thing people who struggle with communication don’t often realize is that first impressions are crucial. When Macha came in and was largely inaccessible during his first season, it built the impression with the players that they couldn’t come to him. When Macha only started being more open after an offseason of hearing complaints about being unapproachable, he then comes off as disingenuous. It’s no wonder nothing changed, even after Macha made an effort.
“And my advice to (him) is: Hey, turn the page. Your focus should be on what you’re doing this year and focus on this team and try to learn from the things that happened in the past.”
Judging from Braun’s comments, it sounds like he’s ready for this season and willing to leave things in the past. The real question, of course, is if Macha is willing to do the same.