Dan Mcgrath
Wednesday December 9th, 2009

With baseball's annual winter meetings under way in Indianapolis this week, Colorado's Jim Tracy is being acknowledged for winning the National League Manager of the Year award. Tracy, a late-May replacement for Clint Hurdle and a good guy, went 74-42 and guided the Rockies to a playoff berth, getting it right in his third try as a big league skipper. He had a 562-572 record (.495) and one postseason trip in seven previous seasons with the Dodgers and Pirates.

The managers will pose for a group photo that will include Manny Acta, recently hired by the Cleveland Indians despite a .385 winning percentage (157-251) over two-plus seasons with the Washington Nationals. Jim Riggleman, his Nats replacement, will be in the picture as well; Riggleman is managing his fourth team despite a .444 winning percentage (555-694), two winning seasons and one playoff trip in seven full years and parts of two others with the Padres, Cubs and Mariners.

Being fired is hardly a career-ending move for a baseball manager -- six of the eight skippers in this year's postseason have felt the ax fall, including Joe Girardi of the world champion Yankees. The Dodgers are the fifth team to employ Joe Torre, Girardi's Yankee predecessor.

With all 30 managerial jobs filled as the winter meetings begin, Bob Brenly sits home in Arizona wondering if the sparkle from his 2001 World Series ring has faded beyond recognition. Recycling skippers is as common a baseball practice as spitting sunflower seeds, but Brenly, 55, hasn't managed since 2004, when the Arizona Diamondbacks fired him 33 months after he delivered a World Series title as their first-year manager.

Brenly interviewed with the Cubs in 2006, but they hired Lou Piniella. He interviewed with the Brewers in 2008, but they hired Ken Macha. This year? Some conversation, but nothing substantial, Brenly said from Columbus, Ohio, where he was visiting family.

So he'll bypass Indianapolis on his way back to Scottsdale. "No reason for me to be at the meetings," he said.

Only seven working managers have a higher winning percentage than the .536 figure Brenly compiled over three-plus seasons in Arizona. He's ahead of such dugout geniuses as Tony La Russa (.535), Piniella (.521) and Jim Leyland (.496). Tom Kelly, 59, is the only other ex-manager under 65 with a World Series ring who is not working.

But Brenly is not seeking sympathy. As exiles go, his is pretty cushy: He has a well-paying, high-profile, enjoyable job as the Cubs television analyst and is well thought of as a broadcaster; he had a network gig with FOX before taking over the D-backs and has been a member of TBS postseason crew the last two years. Compared with the daily grind of managing, it's relatively stress-free living. "There's a lot less pressure sitting up there talking about what might have happened as opposed to being accountable for did happen," Brenly concedes.

He also concedes that he misses it. The competitor in him is restless for another shot. Brenly was 303-262 with two postseason trips in his three-plus seasons in Arizona, but it ended badly there. He's a proud guy, and the thought of being remembered as a failure nags at him.

The D-backs won another NL West title in '02 before losing to St. Louis in the division series. They finished third in '03, and were muddling along in fifth place with a 29-50 record when Brenly was fired in July 2004, against a backdrop of payroll issues, ownership turmoil and one disastrous trade.

"We decided we needed a marquee thumper in the middle of the lineup, and at the time, Richie Sexson fit that bill about as well as anyone," Brenly recalls.

The D-backs sent a package of six players and prospects to Milwaukee for Sexson, then 29, who had averaged 37 homers over the previous four seasons. Sexson hit nine bombs in his first 23 games for Arizona, then tore up his shoulder and missed the rest of the '04 season.

In hindsight, Brenly says, "I wish Id spoken up more to oppose that deal. It pretty much destroyed our depth, which had been the key to our success. We were an old team when we won in 2001, but we didn't really have a set lineup. Guys like David DeLucchi, Erubiel Durazo and Danny Bautista weren't everyday players, but there were certain pitchers we knew they could hit, so they'd get enough at-bats to stay sharp and the other guys would get enough rest so they didn't wear down late in the season. After we made the Sexson trade, we didn't have that flexibility."

And in time they didn't have Sexson, who signed with Seattle as a free agent that winter.

Brenly executed a comfortable landing in the Cubs TV booth, replacing popular Steve Stone, who left after a falling out with team management in '04. The outspoken and eerily clairvoyant Stone was a tough act to follow, but Brenly is his own man as an analyst: He speaks his mind, and viewers appreciate his candor, humor and baseball intellect. He would not be a tough sell as Piniella's successor should Piniella step aside as planned after (or during) the 2010 season, but he is careful not to sound as if he's campaigning for the job.

"I spend a lot of time in Lou's office and he bounces things off me, which I appreciate, but I'm not in the inner circle, not part of the decision-making process," Brenly says. "I think I've got some things to offer, and I believe I'd be a better manager if I get another shot because I've learned a lot more about the game. In a lot of ways this is like any other business. If you're not moving forward you stagnate."

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry interviewed Brenly and Girardi before settling on Piniella in 2006, citing his extensive experience. But he likes Brenly and would have him on a short list of Piniella successors, along with Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Fame second baseman who just finished his third year managing in the Cubs farm system and might be the people's choice. This week's promotion to Triple-A Iowa suggests Sandberg might be the new Cubs owners choice as well.

"I don't have an agent or an advocate out there pushing me, so I'm not on anybody's front burner," Brenly says. "If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I've got a good job that I love and I'll keep working to get better at it. The Cubs, Wrigley Field, Wrigleyville and all that entails there's nothing like it in baseball."

Maybe not, but the view from the dugout might be a little different.

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