OAKLAND — In the late 1980s, when Bob Brenly and Bob Melvin were teammates with the San Francisco Giants, Brenly never figured that his fellow catcher had a future in managing.
Mel, as Brenly still calls him, was just one of the guys.
“For those of us who have known him for a long time, [we] remember him as kind of absent minded, a little bit of a goofy player,” Brenly said.
Even when Brenly was managing the World Series-winning Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and Melvin was his bench coach, the current D-backs broadcaster didn’t make the managerial connection.
Brenly didn’t even know if Melvin was long for the diamond.
“He was so astute in the financial world, I think we all kind of thought he was going to be a big mover and shaker on Wall Street,” Brenly said.
As Brenly recalls, Melvin worked at a brokerage firm during the offseason a couple of years during his playing career. That side gig spilled over into his day job when he was Brenly’s bench coach.
“We’d post the daily schedule for spring training down in Tucson, at the bottom of the page he’d put the Dow Jones Industrial Average and maybe a couple of stocks that he’d recommend guys possibly get in on,” Brenly said.
In retrospect, Brenly thinks the goofy exterior was a facade, masking the reality that Melvin was absorbing everything that transpired on the field.
“It may have been a defense mechanism on his part,” Brenly said. “So people didn’t look at him as a baseball geek.”
A year after writing up the stock broker lineup cards, Melvin landed his first managing job, with the Seattle Mariners for the 2003-2004 season.
Fast forward to the present and Melvin is in Year 14 on the bench. Last month, he secured his 1,000th career win, a milestone celebrated with congratulatory videos from Jim Harbaugh and Steve Kerr posted on the Athletics’ official Twitter account.
In recent seasons, there have also been plenty of losses, too, as the A’s haven’t been in the playoff race since 2014.
Even as the the A’s careen toward a third-consecutive last-place finish, Melvin remains as popular as ever with coaching luminaries, colleagues and his players.
“When you’re managing or coaching a player, the thing they appreciate the most is not to be shown up,” explained Chip Hale, Melvin’s acting bench coach and longtime friend. “You’ll never see Bob ever make a face.”
“He’s upfront. He’s honest,” Hale continued. “It’s not like he sugar coats it, but he does it behind closed doors. I think that’s probably why the players like him, respect him so much.”
Rajai Davis, a veteran of 12 major-league seasons, said Melvin is a popular boss because he’s easygoing and has a good personality. Catcher Bruce Maxwell, in his first full season, agrees.
“He’s a player’s manager,” Maxwell said. “He’s very personal with us. If anything’s ever on his mind, he’s never afraid to talk about it. He’s behind us. He keeps everything kind of light, kind of fun.”
Melvin’s specialty is getting the most out of his roster — like he did with a young D-backs team in 2007 or a rookie-laden A’s squad in 2012. Both clubs were division winners and Melvin earned Manager of the Year honors on both occasions.
“I always talk about overachieving, trying to get 3 to 5 percent more out of a player than probably his ability is,” Hale said. “I think Bob has always done that wherever he’s gone or whoever he’s had.”
Davis echoed that assessment.
“I think the better managers deal with players more effectively,” Davis said. “They’re able to draw out full potential — instead of just part of it.”
So too did Brenly, saying that’s why the mounting losses have never put Melvin on the hot seat.
“Any manager would like to have a team of All-Stars and great track records and clutch players and Cy Young pitchers, but the reality of the game just isn’t that way no matter where you’re at,” Brenly said. “And especially in Oakland, where they have financial constraints.
“Mel gets the most out of the talent he’s given and when he’s given good talent, they respond extremely well to his leadership.”
Melvin got his first break from Phil Garner, who hired him as the Brewers bench coach in 1999 when the one-time Giant was only 38.
Melvin’s first managerial role model was Buck Showalter, then the New York Yankees skipper and now the Baltimore Orioles boss. Melvin spent the summer of 1994 with Showalter’s Yankees.
“He really made me aware of when I was going to play, let me prepare for those days [and] kind of gave me a positive outlook, [saying,] ‘This is who you’re playing against, why you’re playing against them,’” Melvin said.
With the Orioles in town last weekend, Showalter called Melvin one of the best-suited managers to pilot the youthful A’s back to contention.
Apprised of those comments, Melvin was flattered, but also couldn’t help but be invigorated by the opportunity in front of him.
“You look at the group of guys we have and how can you not be excited? The position players that have played together for a while in this organization and have won at every level,” Melvin said. “Now they’re here really itching to get back to a winning-type atmosphere.”