Here is a link to my Thursday column about Bob Melvin and Billy Beane:
You also can read the complete text below
By LOWELL COHN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
OAKLAND — It was a bad look for the Oakland A’s.
Two outs away from a win against the Angels. Chance to muscle their way closer to clinching the AL West. Two-run homer by Josh Hamilton top of the ninth. Angels tie game. Grant Balfour blown save. Extra innings. A’s lose. Could have had 90 wins. Big number. Still at 89.
This was bad coming so late in the season. Bad way to prep for the playoffs.
And then manager Bob Melvin walked into the interview room, a cavern underneath the stadium, where he sat on a stage behind a table covered with a green cloth. He wore an A’s cap, his sunglasses on the brim of the cap.
His voice was steady and without affect. He showed no grief, disappointment, irritation. He showed the same demeanor he shows after wins — exactly the same. You never can tell by Melvin’s behavior if his team won or lost.
“We had some tough losses this year and we’ve had dramatic wins,” he said in a voice devoid of drama. “So, you just put this one away and come back tomorrow and expect to win. As a team we’ve been pretty good about that over the last two years.”
He is the reason the A’s won the American League West last year and surely will win it this year. The A’s are a good team — they have the second-best record in the American League and they are a contender for the World Series. But they are not a great team.
They have no superstar. They have one position player who’s played in an All-Star Game. And he did it once. Chris Young — a solid player but not a core player.
The A’s play better than their talent.
Melvin is the reason the A’s are good. He prides himself on giving his players no surprises. He doesn’t always tell a player what he wants to hear, but he always tells a player what he needs to hear. Some managers don’t do that. Melvin treats guys with respect.
There is another reason the A’s are good.
Billy Beane is the other reason, but not how you think. Sure, he’s a whiz at finding good, inexpensive, young players. He is a whiz at keeping the A’s on the rise. But there’s something else.
Beane grew up, grew up a while back. He learned to let a manager manage.
In the old days — think Art Howe — Beane was intrusive. He intruded on the lineup. He told Howe where to stand during games. Behind closed doors with Howe — I’m sure Beane would admit this — he was insensitive. Rude? He demeaned Howe, who was a hell of a manager. But the players knew Howe didn’t run the show and they never showed him the respect he absolutely deserved.
If Beane had Melvin when Beane was younger, he would have run over Melvin and, I believe, run him out of town. At that time, Beane had the attitude that managers were unnecessary. It was more than that. Managers were in the way.
Beane would not — could not — have allowed Melvin to flourish when Beane was a young man on the make. Beane is better now. From what I hear, he’s terrific.
That means he is ready for Melvin, has earned someone of that caliber — the highest. My impression is that Melvin has the same autonomy he had in Seattle and Arizona, the same autonomy any big league manager has. Melvin is not only not in the way, he enhances Beane and makes Beane better.
I asked A’s batting coach Chili Davis, Melvin’s teammate on the Giants, what makes Melvin a good manager.
“He’s patient, very patient with players, especially younger players,” Davis said. “He’s a people person. There are managers who are good with veteran players, but not as good with younger players. He’s good with both.”
What was Melvin like on the Giants?
“He understood his role, prepared for it well,” Davis said. “He was trying to establish himself coming from Detroit to San Francisco. He wanted to play more and the opportunity wasn’t there as much as he wanted it. But he was ready. He was a good catcher. Pretty decent hitter, right-center-field type guy. Very athletic. Good arm. He was looked at as a really good defensive catcher as opposed to an offensive catcher. He took pride in that. He took pride in calling a good game. He took pride in being able to throw and block balls.”
I remember Melvin as a player with the Giants in the 1980s. He had the same personality he has now. He was polite, thoughtful, smart. He was a gentleman. He did not have to be center of attention. He was surrounded by big personalities — Will Clark, Mike Krukow, Bob Brenly, Jeffrey Leonard, Davis. And he didn’t compete for attention.
Here is Davis on Melvin’s personality. “He’s not very boisterous. He’s very easygoing, but he demands a certain respect, and his players know that. He’s got a staff that tries to catch things before they get to him. He has the final say-so down here and he knows we’re behind him 100 percent.”
You could diagram Melvin’s contribution to the A’s like this: Manager’s great personality wins games even when A’s lose. Or something like that.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. Reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn.pressdemocrat.com.