The funny thing happened to Rene Lachemann at his homecoming party in Seattle last week. He didn't win a game.
The former Mariner manager returned at the helm of the Milwaukee Brewers, and the city couldn't wait. When Lachemann was fired last June by owner George Argyros, the outcry nearly melted the snow on Mount Rainier. Now, Seattleites knew, Lachemann would be vindicated when his sure-shot contenders beat up on the woebegone locals.
So what happened? Lachemann's wife, Lauri, and son Britt, 15, flew in from the family home in Phoenix, and his son Jim, 19, came over from Tacoma Junior College to share the occasion with him. The local fans welcomed Lachemann with friendly banners and enthusiastic cheers that gave him chills. But then the balloons popped, the champagne went flat and the band went home. Lachemann's new team lost to Lachemann's old team 6-3 on Friday, 3-2 on Saturday and 5-4 on Sunday, and at week's end the Brewers had five straight losses for the worst record in baseball. "People keep asking me how I like coming back to Seattle," he said. "All I know is we haven't won yet."
This wasn't all the bad news, either. In spring training Lachemann had marveled at the array of talent at his disposal. But on March 22 third baseman Paul Molitor was found to have a torn elbow muscle that may require surgery and months of rehabilitation, and on April 3 righthander Pete Vuckovich, the 1982 Cy Young Award winner, underwent surgery for bone chips in his right shoulder.
In Milwaukee's worst opening week ever, the bullpen blew, two leads, and the heart of the lineup (Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount and Ted Simmons) had no extra-base hits. But no one was faulting the manager's machinations.
"The three things I look for in a manager are how he handles people, how he manages over a nine-inning game and how he deals with pitchers," says CM. Harry Dalton, who had fired laissez-faire Harvey Kuenn last October and signed Lachemann to a one-year contract reportedly worth $90,000. "Rene manages aggressively by using the stolen base, squeeze and hit-and-run, isn't afraid to make pitching moves and has an easy manner without losing his authority."
Though at 38 he's the youngest manager in the major leagues, Lachemann already has a notable track record. In 8½ years as a minor-league skipper, he made respectable teams out of dead-enders; in 1982, his only full season at Seattle, the Mariners climbed from sixth to fourth, and Lachemann won the hearts of the populace. "Everywhere I've managed it's been rebuild, rebuild, rebuild," he says. "I took the Milwaukee job to find out how I could do with talented players."
Lachemann arrived at spring training in Sun City, Ariz. armed with charts, radar guns and films. Before each workout the players had to run, jog or walk 1½ miles and endure an unaccustomed 20 minutes of aerobics. "There was no standing around," says leftfielder Ben Oglivie. "We got more done in less time." Adds pitcher Don Sutton, "He's the most orderly, organized, scheduled man I've ever played for."
After every game Lachemann composes the next day's lineup and posts it before the players leave the clubhouse. "That way they have a night to prepare," he says. A thoroughly modern manager, he's willing to belittle himself, give each player specialized attention and go to his veterans for advice. Once, when Lachemann couldn't remember the name of one of his pitchers, he fined himself $20 for being an "embarrassment to the club." He calls this kind of penalty a FUM fine, an acronym that stands, more or less, for fouled-up managing.
During one exhibition game, Lachemann took advice from designated hitter and part-time catcher Ted Simmons. "Ted pointed out that the toughest place to throw out a guy scoring from second is centerfield," says Lachemann. "So why not bunch the middle infielders up the middle? We did that with the next hitter, and Jim Gantner, our second baseman, only had to go a couple steps to his right to make the play and save a run." Says Simmons, "There are only a handful of managers who aren't intimidated by an exchange of that sort."
Lachemann isn't one to go by the managerial book anyway. He keeps his own. "I have to have something behind my reasoning," he says. "That's why I use charts of past performance. How do I know it's right to bring in a lefthanded pitcher against a lefthanded batter: The guy might be hitting .600 off him. I don't bunt or play infielders close to the line very often. It may make a manager look good, but it's not the percentage move."
If there's a final quality that separates Lachemann from most managers, it's his refusal to be a 24-hour baseball man. Encouraged by Lauri, he has begun to frequent theaters, art galleries and museums. "Sometimes your head's full of baseball stuff, and you can clear it by doing something different," he says. "Besides, there's more to the world than baseball."
But he's quite proficient in that world. "I'll tell you what kind of manager he was," says Seattle pitcher Matt Young. "In the first inning of my first game I loaded the bases against the Yankees. Lach came out with that laid-back walk of his and said, 'You see them broads in the third row?' He was telling me to relax, and it worked: I wound up going seven innings to win 6-2."
No wonder the Mariners felt like party poopers last week. "What's the story on Vuckovich?" Seattle reliever Ed Vande Berg asked. "What about Molitor?" He listened to the bad news and frowned. "Poor Lach," he said. "You got to feel for the guy."
Hoping to change his luck on Sunday, Lachemann used a different pen to fill out the lineup card. "Black," he said, "for mourning." The Brewers got three unearned runs, but lost 5-4 because left-fielder Ben Oglivie overthrew a cutoff man, pitcher Don Sutton failed to cover on a grounder to first and Cooper, Yount and Simmons came to bat seven times with the bases loaded and couldn't get the ball out of the infield. "I can't remember that happening in my seven years with this club," said Oglivie.
His pre-Seattle good humor reduced to grim shock, Lachemann called a five-minute clubhouse meeting. "He told us to shake ourselves," said Molitor. "I told them to get their s—together," said Lachemann. "In those exact words."
Lachemann and the Brewers will return to Seattle on July 16. Maybe the second coming will be more fun than the homecoming.