Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, not general manager Doug Melvin, is the one who made the call to can manager Ned Yost, multiple sources told SI.com
While the official word out of the Brewers camp was that the firing was a group effort with Melvin making the ultimate call, two people in the know contradicted those claims. They say Attanasio, a very astute and aggressive owner in his first years in Milwaukee, made the decision, then flew in to Chicago to meet first with Melvin, and then Melvin and Yost together.
After Attanasio told Melvin what he had decided, they both called Yost into the meeting and informed him of the decision. Attanasio did the right thing by telling Yost face-to-face.
While the timing of the firing was highly unusual, it was the right move. The Brewers had lost 11 of its last 14 games under Yost and appeared on its way to a second straight late-season collapse. Yost always seemed to be on edge or ready to explode, and perhaps his wasn't the right personality to lead such a young team.
The team needed a jolt and Yost didn't impress too many folks (beyond Melvin) that he was the man for the job. The Brewers lost their first game under new manager Dale Sveum (who's not exactly experienced himself -- three seasons managing at Class AA Altoona) and still has to play the Cubs, the best team in the National League, five more times.
But there's still a chance they could reach their first postseason since 1982, as the Mets are also threatening to choke for a second straight season and the Astros appear to have hit a wall after a nice run.
Melvin indicated that Yost was questioned in the meeting about what could be done to aid the floundering team. (Melvin said, in effect, that Yost didn't have the answers but that he isn't sure who would.) But Attanasio didn't fly to Chicago from out of town to conduct an interview. And Yost told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was fired as soon as he entered the room, and that the questions came later.
The Brewers portrayed the firing as a group effort with GM Melvin getting the final call. That's no surprise at all, as teams love to portray the notion that the GM has all the power and that the owner is merely a benevolent caretaker or overseer. Teams must feel that if folks believe an owner is calling any shots, either it will be portrayed that the owner is over-involved or that the GM is milquetoast, or worse, toast.
One person close to Attanasio, while apparently trying to convince me that Attanasio had nothing to do with this decision, pointed out to me that Attanasio finished near the bottom in his fantasy league.
But hey, this isn't some fantasy, and it's OK. The owner is the one whose investment is on the line, and with a vast majority of teams the owner will occasionally step in when necessary. Attanasio obviously and understandably felt that this was one of those times.
Attanasio is believed to have left the replacement manager up to Melvin, and with his options few, he tabbed Sveum, the third base coach, whose promotion might shock baseball people in New York and Boston, where he served as a fine bullpen catcher and a shaky third base coach, respectively. Sveum was once named the best managerial prospect in the Eastern League. He is well-liked, but this isn't a personality contest; he's mostly in there because he isn't Yost.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, George Steinbrenner is the only other owner to have fired a manager still in playoff position late in a season; he canned Gene Michael after Michael led the Yankees to a first-half title in the two-part, strike-riddled 1981 season before the Yankees slumped in the second half. But this doesn't make Attanasio another Steinbrenner.
Yost actually should have been let go following last year's collapse, when the manager imploded along with his team, getting himself ejected three times in the final week of a season in which the Brewers blew an 8 1/2-game lead to the rival Cubs.
But Attanasio left that decision up to Melvin, and Melvin apparently liked his own choice of Yost. Melvin like Yost so much that he gave him a one-year extension. Oddly, that decision to extend Yost was kept secret for months after it was made, an indication that management didn't think it was anything to brag about.
While Attanasio made the call here, it shouldn't be assumed that Melvin's powers are diminished, or that his job is on the line. Melvin has taken advantage of Attanasio's small-market generosity (nearly $90 million is by far the most any small-market team is spending on players) and scouting director Jack Zduriencik's fine drafts to field a talented team. Melvin has made several good calls, including the one to retain Zduriencik after he replaced Dean Taylor as GM.
Melvin's made some excellent player moves, as well, including Salomon Torres, Mike Cameron, Jason Kendall and Gabe Kapler. But Melvin's taste in players is sometimes better than his taste in underlings. (I am admittedly slightly biased on that score, as Melvin's main assistant is Gord Ash, who once, while trying to avoid being questioned by me when he was Blue Jays GM at the winter meetings, turned around to tell me, "I hate you. And I hate all New Yorkers.'' An aside: Ash might want to keep that opinion to himself now, as Attanasio is originally from the Bronx.)
As for Yost, he appeared way too up-tight for a tough job. When asked by a reporter in Philadelphia whether they were entering an "important'' series, Yost grew tense and raised his voice, according people who were there.
If Yost's fate had been left totally up to Melvin, Yost would still be managing the Brewers. And that would be a far riskier move. Milwaukee blew a four-game lead in the wild-card derby by losing four straight in Philadelphia and appeared to be in a straight nosedive.
Twelve games remained, and there was still a chance. Attanasio had to take his best shot.