10/04/2002 1:14 pm ET
Brenly not afraid to roll the dice
'Riverboat gambler' sticking to his style
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- All the crinkles in Bob Brenly's face -- they chronicle his years in baseball, just like tree rings -- are in action when he is reminded how he's such a "riverboat gambler" with his Diamondbacks team.
There's his typical chuckle. Yeah, he says, nodding. That's me. Put on a fancy vest and an eyeshade and he's cruising down the Salt River in the Valley of the Sun, rolling the baseball dice with his team every game, and in hog heaven.
A croupier calling for a squeeze bunt. A high-stakes poker player with a straight face and an inside straight pinch-hitter. Playing bullpen roulette.
Utter nonsense, says Brenly, whose team faces a 2-0 deficit heading into Game 3 of the National League Division Series in St. Louis on Saturday.
"There may be a game when we might try to a squeeze twice in a game and we may walk somebody to get to Sammy Sosa ... We do it for a reason and I don't see that as gambling."
-- Bob Brenly
"In the broadcast side of business, I saw how certain labels were put on people, or tags, and it takes on a life of its own," said Brenly, only the fourth skipper in history with no previous managerial experience to win the World Series in his rookie season in 2001. "We might have done a few unorthodox things last year, but we did things we felt we had to do."
He rests some of his older players to keep them fresh for the postseason. He mixes and matches like a chess player, moving lineup pieces constantly -- this season he used 141 different lineup combinations due to an abundance of injuries. He plays the hot hand. Be aggressive. Steal a base.
He's still at it, and the only time Brenly made it to Las Vegas this year was a Spring Training game against the Dodgers. Not much time to do anything there except play the hotel slots.
Still, Brenly is a master quotesman and humorous sort who perhaps embraced the take-a-risk label, keeping the opposition wondering what's coming next.
"Riverboat gambler," he said. "It doesn't bother me. I would venture to guess if somebody took the time to look up the stats of how many times we did the squeeze play or how many we tried unorthodox things, we're probably in the lower percentile of Major League teams.
"There may be a game when we might try to a squeeze twice in a game and we may walk somebody to get to Sammy Sosa, do something out of the ordinary. But it's not for the sake of being adventurous and flying in the face of the odds. We do it for a reason and I don't see that as gambling."
Perhaps some managers love to stick with a set lineup for much of the season, pinch-hit only in late innings, and keep the rotation rotating like clockwork. Not Brenly.
He revels in perusing matchups and tendencies, and while some moves may appear to be risky, he's not shooting from the hip. Often, it's his only option. Foremost, Brenly's a thinker and tinkerer. He let the bench-riders get regular action this year. No one got stale. Everybody was fresh.
Unfortunately, with the loss of left fielder Luis Gonzalez and versatile infielder Craig Counsell -- and earlier, outfielder Danny Bautista -- the dugout gang of Quinton McCracken, Greg Colbrunn and David Dellucci was forced to play regularly, and that solid bench kind of splintered.
But from the general manager to the players, they love Brenly's upbeat manner and the way he treats every athlete as an important cog.
GM Joe Garagiola Jr. is a big Brenly fan. "He's aggressive, but he doesn't over-manage. That's a real skill for a manager. It's very difficult to do, keeping everyone fresh.
"It requires a lot of communication, a lot of walking around the outfield talking to guy, particularly the low-maintenance guys," Garagiola said. "It's easy to take them for granted. He's keenly aware of that. Nobody likes to be taken for granted. They all like to know their contributions are noted and appreciated."
Bench coach Bob Melvin, whose organizational expertise has aided Brenly immensely and is a top candidate for vacant managerial posts himself, said Brenly has made the clubhouse as easy-going as possible.
"In a game where there's tension and pressure, our guys don't feel that in the clubhouse," said Melvin, who caught with Brenly for two seasons in San Francisco. "They know it's their place and won't be hampered by a million different rules and so forth. The atmosphere he's created is one of our strong points. He's in charge here, but you don't feel someone is looking over your shoulder all the time."
Brenly says he hasn't changed his style much since last season, but admits he's tempered his outspokenness, bit his tongue more often.
"There are certain people out there that have their own agendas and issues, and I'm determined not to make it easy for them to find negative or controversial things to stir the pot," said the 48-year-old skipper.
Otherwise, the mustachioed manager with a gift of gab and -- dare we say it -- gambling on the field, goes about his business with a fairly methodical but unique bent.
So, Bob, have you ever actually been on a riverboat and placed some bets?
"Yes, I have," said Brenly. "I love shooting craps -- but only on a riverboat."
With the mighty Mississippi as the backdrop, St. Louis is the perfect place for the Arizona skipper to reverse his fortunes.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.