Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 5/31/12
MILWAUKEE Ron Roenicke's face tells a quiet narrative of the Brewers' season thus far. The Brewers manager is far from expressive. He's rarely one to let his emotions get the best of him. He is, by all accounts, the anti-Ozzie Guillen. But the subtle changes the furled brow, the confusion in his eyes, the wrinkles on his forehead say something understated about Roenicke and about what he's gone through during his team's stumbles in the first two months of the season. In his second year on the job, he knows the nature of being a major league manager. It's a job encompassed by day-to-day failure, the ultimate punching bag of media accountability. As much as Roenicke realizes a long season means peaks and falls, mountains of success and valleys of failure, the failure will always remain a constant. And as he says repeatedly, that's just baseball. That wasn't quite the case in his first season. A slow start in the first month and a half of Roenicke's tenure as a major league manager turned into the best finish of any team in baseball last season. He finished second in voting for NL Manager of the Year, and he brought his team to the brink of a World Series appearance. His postgame smile, similarly slight and controlled, was seemingly omnipresent then. This year, it has faded at times early on, as the Brewers have been torn apart by injuries and underperformance, dropping them to fifth place in the NL Central. But Roenicke knew this was coming. He has on several occasions drawn from the former managers he worked for Tommy Lasorda and Mike Scioscia, among others legends who managed the day-to-day grind of their own jobs better than most. He has experienced worse failure just never as the top guy. The best management of that grind, at times, often involves ignoring the very standards of human nature. It's what separates the true managers from those who just happen to manage, former Brewers skipper Tom Trebelhorn said. "Human nature is such that if you're getting beat around a little bit and things aren't going too good and you've got injuries and you're not as good of a club as you wanted to be, everyone's miserable," said Trebelhorn, who managed the Brewers from 1986-91 and the Cubs in 1994. "But you can't be miserable." Trebelhorn knows that balance better than most. Armed with a five-year plan to bring the Brewers back to relevance, injuries ravaged the 1991 Brewers pitching rotation. Left with little to work with, Trebelhorn was criticized for not dealing with his situation well enough. Once health came back to the Brewers' clubhouse, Milwaukee finished the 1991 season with a 40-19 record. Trebelhorn was fired a week into October. Trebelhorn still defends his managing job in Milwaukee. He points to his successes because he's been trained that way since his start in major league baseball. He is a manager at heart, cognizant of his victories and quick to get over his failures. He admits he failed managing certain players, most notably talented and boisterous outfielder Gary Sheffield, but he knows, deep down, injuries were what derailed his path in Milwaukee. He can reflect on those things now. But as a manager, responsible for taking the brunt of the failure of a club, those day-to-day struggles are minimized as much as possible. "Keeping perspective is most important," Trebelhorn said. "I knew when we were 13-0 and 20-3 (in 1987) we weren't that good. And I knew when we lost 12 in a row (also in 1987), we weren't that bad. You just have to keep perspective on those things." Roenicke has tried his best to keep that perspective all season, but certain situations have clearly worn on him. Successes have often been tempered by another player going on the DL. Earlier in May, three straight victories were followed with a player going on the list."We can't even enjoy wins," Roenicke said after shortstop Cesar Izturis was injured in a win over Arizona last weekend. Roenicke, 55, has also been brutally honest at times."Just nothing is going right," Roenicke said on May 17, soon after the Brewers were swept by Houston. It was a brief moment of exasperation for the manager. But those moments, when the grind and the losing catch up to a manager, have been few and far between when it comes to his attitude with his players. The voices in this year's Brewers clubhouse are notably different. There are few loud motivators to keep an atmosphere of positivity and inspiration throughout the locker room. That job, more this year than last, falls on Roenicke. He's not the prototypical rah-rah kind of major league manager, but if Roenicke is anything, it's positive. "He always stays positive," right fielder Corey Hart said last week. "And he understands that things can turn around at the drop of a hat." Still, no matter what story his face tells on a day-to-day basis, Roenicke is at the mercy of the drop of that hat. Continued slumps, no matter how unusual or unfair, will ultimately affect his job status. That kind of pressure can overtake a manager if he lets the wondering consume him. Former Brewers manager Phil Garner knows that delicate dance well. Although Garner's 1992-99 tenure in Milwaukee wasn't loaded with failure, his subsequent two-plus years with the Detroit Tigers -- which included a 96-loss season -- helped him understand the stresses of losing better than most. "The problem is figuring out why," Garner said. "Why are you losing? That can ultimately be the most confusing thing for a manager because a lot of times that answer isn't very obvious." Sometimes, Garner said, there was no other explanation he could give to upper management besides the obvious: His team was in a rut. Injuries were the most frustrating, he said. He hated the feeling of ceding control of his team's success. This season, Roenicke knows that feeling well. The Brewers needed just six starting pitchers all of 2011. He's already used seven this season. He's on his fourth different shortstop and first baseman. Coming into Wednesday's game against the Dodgers, Roenicke had used a new starting lineup in each of the team's past 12 games. Garner is all too familiar with that kind of frustration, the tweaks and subtle moves a manager hopes will somehow change the course of a game, a series, or even a season. "I've tried drawing the lineup out of a hat," Garner said. "I've tried asking the press to make up a lineup, I've tried to ask the players to put together a lineup. Sometimes nothing seems to work. It's almost like the gods of baseball want to take you at the knees. You're just at their mercy." Like Trebelhorn, Garner says it takes a special kind of person to deal with the impending failure of being a major league manager. The subtleness in Roenicke's reaction, the stoicisim in the face of overwhelming struggles shows pretty clearly that he is a part of that fraternity. As the Brewers won their third straight game over the major league-leading Dodgers on Wednesday night, Roenicke's face took on a different look, one that hadn't shown itself very often throughout the Brewers' slump. He smiled at questions about success. He knows, like all managers know, that those questions won't last. Such situations remind Garner of something one of his former managers, the late Chuck Tanner, told him when he became a major league skipper. The words still stick with Garner today. "In this game, you never make a wrong decision," Tanner told him. "Some decisions just turn out a little better than others." It's advice that Garner has lived by all these years. He chuckles a bit as he recites it, all too aware of how true it is. And as Roenicke deals with the day-to-day struggles of being a major league manager, adjusting in his second year to the failures innate to the job, that mantra is already a part of his nature. His decisions may not work tomorrow or the next day. But on Wednesday night, Roenicke grinned proudly. For one of the first times this season, everything had worked out as planned. Follow Ryan Kartje on Twitter.
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