Former Brother Rice star Mackanin hopes to shed 'interim' tag with Reds
July 29, 2007
By Jeff Vorva Staff writer
CINCINNATI -- Pete Mackanin will turn 56 on Wednesday, and the perfect birthday gift for him is not something he would receive.
It would be something that would be taken away from him.
The former Brother Rice High School baseball standout is the Cincinnati Reds' interim manager, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. However, it's just a shade shy of his ultimate goal.
But what if on Wednesday, under the craziest of circumstances, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky woke up and decided to take away the "interim" tag and let Mackanin run the show for the next couple of years?
"Without a question and without a doubt that would be a great birthday present," Mackanin said. "But I can honestly say I don't think about it and I don't worry about it, because it doesn't do me any good to project that far. I just need to concentrate as much as I can on the daily grind."
It hasn't been much of a grind around the Reds lately. Under Jerry Narron, the club hoped to be a contender this season. But on July 1, the team fell to 31-51 and was 16½ games out of first place in the National League Central. Narron was fired as manager the next day.
Enter Mackanin, who'd managed 1,766 minor league games over the years and 26 games with Pittsburgh as an "interim" skipper in 2005 after Lloyd McClendon was fired.
Mackanin played in the majors from 1973-81, and while the infielder didn't have a Hall of Fame career -- .226, 30 homers and 141 RBI in 548 games with Texas, Montreal, Philadelphia and Minnesota -- he learned some of his managing skills from some of the best in the business.
Ted Williams. Dick Williams. Gene Mauch. Whitey Herzog. Dallas Green. Just to name a few.
And before the Bronx was burning, Billy Martin managed Mackanin when Mackanin was a 21-year-old rookie with the Texas Rangers in 1973.
Mackanin said he learned from all of his managers and has thrown in his own style in what has turned out to be a pretty good mixture so far. Heading into the series vs. the Cubs, the Reds were 13-8 and had won four of six series since Mackanin took over.
He had some tough-guy mentors in Martin, Mauch and Co. Lock those guys in a room full of angry snakes and bears and someone better call for help -- for the snakes and bears.
Mackanin, too, has brought some much-needed fun into the Reds clubhouse.
"He goes out of his way to be humorous," first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. "He tries to keep things light when things are going bad. It's his personality. It's more relaxed here."
"He lets us play," star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. added. "He lets us do our thing."
Mackanin hasn't lost sight of his roots. The 1969 Brother Rice graduate was proud to receive, from a Crusader supporter, a "Final Four" baseball jersey, commemorating Brother Rice's successful 2007 baseball season. The Crusaders were Class AA state semifinalists this year.
While national icons such as Ted Williams and Martin helped shape Mackanin's baseball life, the Reds manager still has fond memories of his high school coaches, George Sedlacek and Cliff Petrak.
"They were just good, solid people," Mackanin said. "When I was 15, 16, 17 years old, I didn't evaluate my coaches. But looking back on those years, I realize how well-intentioned both of them were and how much I enjoyed playing for them and how lucky I was to play for them. Some guys were taskmasters and had their thumb on you. These guys were great to play for."
So now the big question: Will "Mack" ever get that darned "interim" tag removed? He has through the end of the season to prove himself. And recent Reds trends favor a nice finish, according to Griffey.
"We obviously played bad enough to get a manager fired," Griffey said. "But if you look over the last four years, we've been a second-half team for some strange reason."
"I don't think of him as 'interim,' " Hatteberg said. "I know he is, but that's not how I look at it. He's been aggressive. That breeds confidence in a team. More importantly, he's been positive in what's been a gloomy clubhouse all year."
There are rumors the Reds are seeking a big-name manager. Former Arizona manager Bob Brenly (who's the Cubs' TV analyst), former Florida skipper Joe Girardi and even current St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa have been mentioned.
"When I managed the Pirates, there wasn't a day that went by when there were three or four new names and the same old names conjectured about who would get the job," Mackanin said. "Fortunately, now, I haven't heard anything. It's not rampant in the paper, which is nice because I don't like to read that kind of thing. If people want to speculate, that's fine. I don't think it's appropriate for anybody who wants the job to express that to the media because I'm sitting here."
Mackanin said he's not sure what's going to play out in the next couple of months.
But after the initial "Pete who?" from some segments of the media, he's gaining a few friends with each victory.
Cincinnati Post columnist Lonnie Wheeler wrote recently that Mackanin could be the guy the Reds are looking for.
"Maybe the interim's on to something. ... Maybe the guy's as good a fit as the Reds are likely to find. But still, doggone it, there's the name thing. A big one seems to be in order. Nearly everyone agrees on that point. And so, in deference to it, may we offer a suggestion to Mr. Mackanin? Flaunt the first name. Around here, it doesn't get any bigger than Pete."
Wheeler was referring to Pete Rose.
So it appears that come Wednesday, Mackanin will not receive the ultimate birthday gift in the form of a multiyear contract to manage the club.
But if the Reds keep playing .619 ball under his watch, he may be receiving a pretty sweet belated birthday gift come October.