A Rare In-Season Managerial Move Overshadows 1-9 Road Trip

The road trip from hell is over.  Mercifully.  It’s rare when a team returns home after a 10-game trip that produced one win.  And it’s even more rare when such a woeful showing is not the focal point of the local media.  Instead, most scribes and on-air folks are reporting on something even more rare:  an in-season managerial change.

For me personally, it started with a red-eye flight to Chicago Wednesday night. I had received a heads up from GM Billy Beane earlier that afternoon that Bob Melvin would be replacing Bob Geren Thursday. While I was keenly aware of the media speculation about him, to actually hear the words that Geren would no longer be our manager was almost stunning to me.  No matter his record, he was a good, decent man, and as Billy said in his briefing, a good baseball man.  When you spend the kind of time together that we did every day in the clubhouse, in his office, on team charters and buses, your manager becomes part of your extended family.  You emphathize with his every up and down, and you share in his victories.  However, part of being a professional is you need to move quickly past the personal part.

The early notice Billy gave me was ample time to write a first draft press release, scribble some notes on how and when to best service the media the next day, and then join Billy and Assistant GM David Forst on a 10:53 pm flight from SFO to O’Hare.  As I’ve experienced with previous news of this nature, the inner circle needs to be kept small to control the timing of the announcement.  This becomes even more critical when there’s still private meetings and planning that need to occur prior to going public.  Billy, David and I arrived at the downtown Chicago Westin Hotel on Michigan Avenue around 6 am, only to learn that–incredibly–we actually beat  the team’s check-in from Baltimore. The team, already reeling from their ninth straight loss, did not pick up their keys in the Westin lobby until 6:30 am, thanks to stormy weather which detoured their flight with an unscheduled stop in Springfield, IL.  The same treacherous conditions also delayed Melvin’s flight from New York, pushing back his arrival time from 10 am to almost noon at the hotel.

Billy and David opted to meet with the coaching staff around 11 am, at which time David gave me the green light to email our prepared press release to the Bay Area, national and Japanese media, along with all A’s front office staff.  Our planned sequence continued to unfold, hour by hour, through the afternoon.  Beane and Forst met with Melvin in the hotel just prior to a 1 pm media conference call where Billy patiently took questions from a wide range of journalists and tried his best to explain the rationale for the managerial change.  As soon as the call ended, we were all headed downstairs to the 2 pm team bus to the stadium.  The frenetic pace continued when we got to U.S. Cellular Field, as equipment man Steve Vucinich outfitted Bob Melvin in his new uniform, including his requested No. 6 jersey to honor Sal Bando, captain of those three straight World Series championship teams of the early 70’s.

Minutes later, I was ushering Melvin and Beane to an interview room across the corridor from our clubhouse for a 3:30 pm media conference.  It turned out to be comprised mostly of TV cameras, including one feeding the conference live to our partner Comcast SportsNet California back home.  There was only a sprinkling of sports writers in attendance, with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser one of the only A’s beat writers in attendance. Most Bay Area and Japanese writers had been delayed en route from Maryland by the same horrendous weather that had effected all of us.  Melvin seemed to wear his heart on his shirt sleeves a bit during the 15-minute conference, harkening back to his childhood days when he used to watch Captain Sal and those great A’s teams at the Coliseum and how excited he was to be wearing those same white shoes and green-and-yellow caps his heroes once wore.

Following the conference, the new A’s skipper got a chance to return to his office for about a half hour of game preparation, then introducing himself to some of his new players, and finally joining Ken Korach in doing the first-ever edition of The Bob Melvin Show that will now precede every remaining game this season.  The second bus from the hotel arrived around 4:30 pm, which signalled us to close the clubhouse so Melvin could conduct an introductory team meeting.  I’ll never forget June 9, as not only was it historic in the naming of Bob Melvin as interim manager, but it was just a rather bizarre scene in general.  It seemed almost like a scene from the Land of the Living Dead, as whether sportswriters, players, coaches or A’s front office types, we were all doing splendid renditions of modern-day zombies.  Sleep deprivation and all-night travel will do that to a person.

Before I conclude this “Anatomy of a Managerial Change” blog, let me offer some early observations of our new field general. First, make no mistake about it, this is a Bay Area guy through and through.  He’s clearly coming home.  When he speaks of Bay Area sports history, or merely his old stomping grounds in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, you can feel the excitement and passion in his voice.  It’s one thing to be a manager in the major leagues, but it’s entirely something else to be a big league manager of your childhood team.

Judging by what I’ve seen so far, this is a man who is going to be real “hands on” as a manager.  I saw him numerous times seeking out players in the clubhouse, whether it be to stress a baseball point or merely to start a relationship.  Same went for his early dealings with the media.  He has been extremely accomodating, not to mention thoughtful and forthcoming (hey, the guy went to Cal!).  When discussing our glut of quality outfielders on the roster the other day, I was struck by how honest he was and willing to share his feelings:  “Ryan (Sweeney) is kind of the odd man out today, and I feel bad about that because we need to get him some at-bats.” And comments from players, PR directors or writers who have dealt with Bob in the past seem to only confirm my first impressions.  White Sox beat writer Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune, who covered Melvin in Phoenix when he wrote for the Arizona Republic, raved about his managing style and people skills.  Conor Jackson, the only current Athletic who previously played for Bob (Diamondbacks), was just as effusive with his praise. And Mike Swanson, former D-Backs PR man who now works with the Royals, told my assistant how thrilled he was for Bob and how much he was looking forward to seeing him this week when Kansas City plays in Oakland.  We know none of these glowing reports guarantees success on the field in this fickle game of baseball, but it certainly gives all of us hope. Now, I hope to see you at the Coliseum this week when we host the Royals and Giants in a short six-game homestand.  Come out and welcome our new manager.  He’ll be the one wearing Captain Sal’s old uniform.

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