Melvin, Athletics in sync on road to playoffs
Players credit their skipper's inate abilities to communicate, manage
OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin is engaging, always present and polite. He's secure in his thoughts, thoughtful in his answers and truly enjoys talking shop. Just don't ask him to talk about himself. He'll shut down, probably fidget with his hands a bit, or on some days the water bottle he's gripping, and reroute the conversation to his players.
But his players think Melvin makes for great fodder. And they're right.
"We all have the utmost respect for him," Brandon Moss said, as the A's prepare to face the Detroit Tigers on Friday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series at 6:37 p.m. PT on TBS. "As players, we go to dinner a lot with each other, and I think more than 10 times a year it's come up that he is by far the favorite manager we've ever played for, just because you know he's fighting for you, you know he's got your back. There's something about him, where you can just feel him rooting for you. I don't know how to explain it, but you can feel it."
So can others, even if they're sitting on a couch some 30 miles away from the Coliseum: "He cares a great deal about his players. You can tell that without even knowing him."
So said Judy Melvin, his mother, who still resides at the same home where she raised her son and daughter in Menlo Park, Calif. She's been there since 1960, following a move from Green Bay, Wisc., where her father, R.B. "Bud" Levitas, served as the first water boy -- and mascot -- for the Acme Packers, before they became the Green Bay Packers.
Levitas became good friends with legendary coach Vince Lombardi. They were a football family, as Judy recalls, before they moved to California. Then they turned into a baseball family. And Bob Melvin turned into a baseball lifer.
Now 51, Melvin has already captured Manager of the Year honors in both leagues.
"It's just been wonderful. I'm just so proud of him," Judy Melvin said. "Watching everything progress has been real incredible. He always had a backup because he's really good in business. He could've been a stockbroker, but he's just too in love with baseball and I don't think he was going to give it up."
Bob Melvin had plenty of time to think about it, though. After abruptly being dismissed of his duties as Arizona Diamondbacks manager on May 7, 2009, he interviewed with five teams over the next 25 months.
The Astros didn't make him an offer. Neither did the Mets. The Brewers, Cubs and Blue Jays all said no, too. A's general manager Billy Beane didn't, and for the first time in his career, hired a manager from outside the organization on June 9, 2011, after dismissing Bob Geren.
For all of Beane's applauded decisions over the years, this certainly has been one of his best. The A's are 237-186 (.560) since Melvin took over, preparing for their second straight postseason appearance by way of yet another American League West title.
"He's the best I've ever played with, when it comes to understanding his players and understanding how to keep everyone on the same page," said Chris Young, who also played under Melvin in Arizona. "He's a manager that is always honest with you, let's you know what's going on and gives you a heads-up. He was the same way in Arizona.
"When you communicate as much as Bob does, everyone's able to click and move together. Those big at-bats come up, you have a pretty idea that you're the guy. The lineup's posted, and you already have a good idea of if you're starting that day. When you give that respect, you're naturally going to get it back."
"He's the best communicator," Moss said. "That's what he does the best. He reads his players really well. He knows us. He reads our body language, our attitude."
When Moss was promoted to the A's last year, he wowed his new manager with six home runs in his first nine games. He also went just 6-for-36 over his next 11 games and feared he'd soon be out the door of yet another organization. Then, Melvin pulled him aside in Seattle one day.
"He said, 'Listen. What you did at the beginning was no fluke,' Moss said. "He said, 'We believe in you as a player. We know what kind of player you are. Stop putting the pressure on yourself. If you get out one time, let it go and get a hit the next time.'
"When he told me that, it really opened my eyes. I thought, they're really going to give me a chance. I won't have to live and die by every at-bat. When the guy that writes the lineup every day who you're playing for says that, and genuinely says it and then shows it by continually putting your name in the lineup, there's a lot of pressure that comes off your shoulders."
Melvin is consistent in this approach, letting his players work through their woes, no matter how lengthy. He did it with Moss last year, and this year with Josh Reddick and Young, among others, including relievers Grant Balfour, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook.
|"He's the best communicator. That's what he does the best. He reads his players really well. He knows us. He reads our body language, our attitude."|
|-- Brandon Moss|
"It's a long season, and if you give up on somebody too early, you might miss out on something, especially if you think the ability is there," Melvin said. "As an organizational philosophy, we have guys here for a reason, and if they're here all year long, you have to have some faith and some patience at times if they're not performing."
Then there's the platoons. Oh, the platoons. Melvin managed four last year, three this season. He's written out 141 different lineups. Few of his guys play every day. Yet all remain content, one of the more telling signs that he's doing something right.
"He wants to win. That's an environment that he creates, a tone he sets," Jed Lowrie said. "I think that's the underlying thing. The wins are there. Guys want to win and I think they're willing to accept different roles if we're winning. I have a lot of respect for Bob. I think he does a great job of handling the different dynamics that are involved with managing a team, especially this team."
Melvin's mother isn't the least bit surprised.
"He was always really smart and, being a catcher, he knew everything about the game and was very diligent," Judy said. "And everybody just loved him. He had a basic core of friends that he still has to this day."
Judy Melvin listens to every pregame radio broadcast, watches every minute of every game. And, yes, she still gets nervous for her son, even though he's not the one playing.
"And I'm also very, very, very superstitious," she said. "I just do weird things like not cross my legs during a game, sit in certain seats when I'm home. I can't get up during an inning. They're just silly little things like that."
It's been well-documented that Bob Melvin is the same way, so imagine Judy playing musical chairs in the middle of a game, just as her son is on the move to a different spot in the dugout -- perhaps to change the fortune of the game.
"He's inner-stress," Moss said, "but outer-cool."
And happy all the way around.
"Oh, I think he's really, really happy being here," Judy said. "I think he couldn't be happier in a situation like he is now, and I think the players feel the same."