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Mackanin: The man who should have managed the Reds

CINCINNATI — Pete Mackanin stood at a press conference podium, his grey hair still combed straight back the same way it was when he was interim manager of the Cincinnati Reds for the last half of the 2007 season.

He was still wore red on Monday, but it was a different shade of red, the red of the Philadelphia Phillies instead of the red of the Cincinnati Reds.

For Mackanin, the third time was, indeed, a huge charm. He was a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates when manager Lloyd McClendon was fired and Mackanin was name interim manager. When the season ended, he didn’t get the job permanently.

WHEN MANAGER JERRY NARR0N was fired in July of 2007 Mackanin was Cincinnati’s advance scout and he was named interim manager. He led the Reds to a 41-39 record, the only Reds manager since Jack McKeon in 2000 to have a winning record. The Reds had the second best record in the National League Central with five series sweeps under Mackanin.

Many thought they should remove the interim tag from Mackanin’s title and make him the Reds’ manager. They removed the interim tag and they removed Mackanin from the job, too, replacing him with Dusty Baker.

Mackanin landed in Philadelphia and was a coach for manager Ryne Sandberg last year until Sandberg resigned last June 26. Mackanin became an interim manager for the third time and this time the interim was removed after last season and Mackanin was given a one-year contract to manage the Phillies without the cumbersome interim title weighing down his shoulders.

WHEN I TOLD HIM there were a lot of people who believed he should have been the full-time manager of the Reds, Mackanin smiled and said, “Yeah, except you. I know you weren’t for me.”

He knows that isn’t true. I was his top tub-thumper and I answered his jab by saying, “Oh, yeah, I was your biggest supporter and that’s probably why you didn’t get it.”

About not getting the job, Mackanin said, “lt was disappointing because I had gone through it with Pittsburgh. Both places the organization wanted bigger names (Clint Hurdle in Pittsburgh, Dusty Baker in Cincinnati). I get it. I didn’t happen to agree with it, but I got it.

“After not getting the job in Cincinnati I kind of gave up thinking about ever doing it,” he added. “It just didn’t seem to be in the cards. Then all of a sudden, when you least expect it, it happens. I couldn’t be more grateful to even the Reds and the Pirates, for letting people look at me as a manager, but especially to the Phillies for sticking with me and extending my contract.

WHILE MACKANIN WAS interim manager for the Reds, the team called up a rookie from Triple-A as part of the September additions. His name was Joey Votto.

“I had heard enough about him, but I hadn’t seen him until we called him up,” said Mackanin. “Scott Hatteberg was our first baseman at the time and he was hitting .280-something. It was a hard decision to make, to take Scottie out of the lineup. He accepted it professionally. When you have a talent like Joey Votto you have to take a look at him.”

Mackanin smiled broadly and said, “Obviously it turned out to be a good decision because he turned out to be a pretty good player. And down the road he’ll probably make some good money.”

AS ANTICIPATED, after failing to perform adequately batting leadoff during spring training, center fielder Billy Hamilton was batting ninth on Opening Day, behind pitcher Raisel Iglesias, while Zack Cozart batted leadoff. Manager Bryan Price said it won’t always be that way. Some wondered why he didn’t bat Hamilton eighth and the pitcher ninth.

“I sat down with (bench coach) Jim Riggleman, a really valuable guy, and we talked through it,” said Price. “The thing about Billy batting eighth and the pitcher behind him is several issues with Hamilton batting eighth and the pitcher ninth.

“Are we going to bunt the pitcher with nobody out? Do you bunt the pitcher, or do you have Billy try to steal a base? With one out, do you bunt the pitcher and if you don’t and the pitcher hits into a double play, you’ve lost the value of having Billy on first,” Price added. “Lastly, with two out if Billy gets caught stealing you are leading off the next inning with the pitcher.”

So all that is why Hamilton batted ninth and pitcher Iglesias eighth.

“There will be some left-handed starters in which Billy will come back down in the order,” said Price. “There will be some fluency with him and Zack moving around in the order, based on left handed and right handed starters.”

LOU PINIELLA was grand marshal of the Findlay Market parade and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. When Piniella managed the Seattle Mariners, Price was the Mariners pitching coach. So it was sort of a reunion for Price.

“It was relationship that I not only enjoyed, but I learned so much from Lou,” said Price. “When he left to manage Tampa Bay, that was a big loss for me. He was a mentor and a friend, a bigger-than-life character in my life. And to get to be around him this year for the three weeks he was with us in spring training was a gift, a neat opportunity.”

DEVIN MESORACO, Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton all underwent surgeries last year and all three were in the Opening Day lineup. And Price admits he is holding his breath with each swing they take, each throw they make.

“I certainly have concerns about Devin, Zack and Billy,” he said. “When they can play on a schedule that you can expect from them, when they are 100 per cent and we have no concerns over durability or re-injury, then I will exhale. That’s just the nature of the beast with the injuries that these guys had. Once they start playing every day, then I’ll be excited.”

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