In case you missed it the other night, the Brewers won a game in which they used a pitcher to pinch hit in the tenth inning. Despite all of the factors involved and the success of the move, it was not ideal baseball strategy. Which probably shouldn't come as a surprise to you because it was executed by Ron Roenicke. Whether he has been calling in pitchers who aren't warmed up, running out of pinch hitters or not really having a basic understanding of how best to use the replay system, Ron Roenicke has proven that he isn't always the sharpest tool in the drawer. Yet for what seems like the hundredth time, everything worked out. Why?
Ron Roenicke is a baseball lifer, basically. He was a college baseball player who was drafted in the first round (!) of the 1977 draft who then went on to play for six different teams in his eight year career. Once that was done he got into managing which led him all the way to Milwaukee. Now I know what you're thinking, "Wait, how can a guy with 17 years of professional baseball experience be so bad at his job?" The answer is demon magic. Just kidding, it's dumb luck. Ron Roenicke's entire career is dumb luck.
Ron Roenicke played his college ball at UCLA which led him to be selected in the first round of the June secondary draft at number 17. Was he a really good college baseball player? NO, but his .284 average and 9 homeruns were solid enough. This was actually the fifth time Roenicke was drafted by a major league team which makes him one of those guys that sticks in the heads of GMs who remember the glory days. Dumb luck? Debatable because he did have some hitting talent, but what really helped Roenicke's draft stock improve was his brother, Gary Roenicke. In 1977 Gary hit .321/.397/.482 in Triple-A and if his brother is anything close to that he's worth a draft pick. Having a talented brother is the kind of dumb luck that gets you a shot in this league. Just ask Ozzie Canseco.
Roenicke actually did pretty good in the minors and in 1981 after hitting .316/.450/.584 in Triple-A he made his major league debut. It was all downhill from there. He played parts of three seasons with the Dodgers before being released in 1983. His Dodgers career saw him bat .239/.324/.301. He was Yuniesky Betancourt in the outfield, a complete failure at
life baseball. His career could've been over at this point, but dumb luck would strike once again in the form of the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners somehow had an outfielder worse than Ron Roenicke: Al Cowens and his .205/.255/.329 slash line. The Mariners not only signed Roenicke, but began starting him and hit him third 35 times. (Fun fact: He was second in times batting third to... Al Cowens. You can't make this stuff up.) Roenicke would jump at the chance and hit .253/.362/.374 which would buy him some more time in the major leagues. I'm not saying it was dumb luck that he got a second chance (he was only 26), but the fact that he went from mid-season release to three hole hitter on one of the worst teams in the league is dumb luck. It probably bought him a few extra years with his solid, but unspectacular performance. Roenicke would bounce around another five years as a utility outfielder/pinch hitter who floated between the majors and minors. He'd never see as many at-bats in a season as he did with the Mariners again, but he did get paid to play baseball and in the end that's all that really matters.
The Dodgers took him back. Why? I don't know. Maybe they thought he was Gary, but they did take him back and make him part of the coaching staff in 1992. He stayed there until 1994 when he got his first managing job for the rookie league Great Falls Dodgers. The following season he moved on to the San Bernadino Spirit where he won Manager of the Year and the team was named League Champions. How could someone who is bad at their job be so successful? Easy, dumb luck. He was named to manage a Dodgers minor league team at a time when the Dodgers had an amazing farm system. This team had six future major leaguers including Paul Konerko. It is not hard to succeed when you have a great team. This will become a theme.
The following season he was a hitting instructor in Triple-A (what he could possibly teach them, I don't know) and then moved to the Double-A San Antonio Missions in 1997 where he again won Manager of the Year and the League Championship. That team would feature 14 future major leaguers as regulars including Paul LoDuca. He had more success in 1998 (with Adrian Beltre and Ted Lilly) before being promoted to Triple-A. That team underperformed despite being loaded with future major leaguers, but his reputation was becoming solidified. Then in 1999 he left the Dodgers to become the Giants Triple-A manager and he had some success there as well, but it was not to last as something was about to happen that would change Roenicke's life forever.
Mike Scioscia became the Angels manager and he wanted to hire his buddy. What other answer could it be? Roenicke was a former teammate, a former coaching colleague with the Dodgers and he had some success in the minors. He was someone Scioscia could trust. Perhaps you could argue that Roenicke earned his way to this position with his success or that having a friend who is a good manager is not dumb luck, but I would argue that with Ron Roenicke there is nothing left to chance. There is no favoritism, success or hard work; there is only dumb luck.
Roenicke would be the third base coach for a World Series champion and he would move up to bench coach when the far superior Joe Maddon left. The team would win the AL West three out of the five years he held that position and his boss would win a Manager of the Year award. The team's success would launch him to the shortlist of managerial candidates and soon the Brewers would come calling.
To understand how Ron Roenicke came to be the Brewers manager, you must first understand who he was up against.
- Joey Cora: Probably spent a little too much time with Ozzie Guillen to be considered a safe candidate.
- Bob Melvin: Who Doug didn't hire to avoid being accused of nepotism. Or he fiddled with his lineups too much.
- Bobby Valentine: The stupidest man alive.
Compared to these guys Ron Roenicke was safe. Ron Roenicke knew how to win. Scioscia was great, then Maddon was great and now it was Roenicke's turn to be great. It was the way it had to be. So Roenicke got hired to be the Brewers manager and then Doug Melvin went about building a super team.
You all know the story by now: Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, John Axford, Nyjer Morgan and K-Rod. The ultimate "we're going for it" team in Brewers history. Ron Roenicke gets a lot of credit for getting that team to "come together" or something, but just look at it. How does that team not succeed? Couldn't anyone manage that team? They won 96 games and started Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop, clearly they could do anything. There were a lot of jobs open in 2011, but Roenicke got this one. Roenicke got the one that was built to contend. Dumb luck? Nah, we're beyond that now. We're in full on reputation mode. A reputation built on a career of dumb luck.
The Brewers would struggle the next two seasons and injuries took their toll, but Roenicke persevered. It wasn't his fault these guys underperformed. It wasn't his fault so and so got hurt. Despite the playoff loss (that was his fault) and two disappointing seasons, the Brewers picked up Roenicke's 2015 option before the season. Just to let him know that they believed in him. At what point did the Brewers decide to do this? Right before they built their best pitching staff since 2011. Right before they set up another "we're going for it" team. It's almost too perfect. A division title means an extension. An extension means another three or four years. In three or four years they'll probably build another "we're going for it" team and the cycle will repeat itself. It is written. It shall come to pass.
Players may come and go, but Roenicke is forever. We are stuck with this guy forever.
Don't like it? Blame dumb luck.