Beane hires a trusted friend in Geren

The one thing to know about new A's manager Bob Geren is that he's not Ken Macha.

In fact, Geren might be the anti-Macha.

Macha didn't have much of a relationship with general manager Billy Beane when he was hired to manage the A's four years ago, having been promoted from bench coach, and their relationship didn't exactly blossom over the years. Actually, it worsened.

Bob Geren Geren

That probably won't be the case with Geren, who considers Beane a close friend and has known him since their high school days in San Diego. More importantly, he's prepared to let Beane have his say.

Macha often grumbled that Beane was too intrusive, but players heavily sided with Beane and, for the most part, weren't disturbed when Macha was fired after the A's were swept by Detroit in the American League Championship Series.

Geren served as best man in Beane's first wedding, and perhaps his toughest chore will be to prove to players and himself that he's his own man and can run a game and control a clubhouse.

He has seven years of managing experience, but none at the big-league level, and it's clearly different overseeing Milton Bradley and Nick Swisher than a teenager working his way through a farm system.

After Macha was fired, several prominent players voiced their support for a change, citing problems with the outgoing manager. Mark Kotsay spoke of "friction," Eric Chavez mentioned an atmosphere that "wasn't positive" and Barry Zito said, "He was a little more focused on the pessimistic stuff than on success.''

Furthermore, players said Macha wasn't supportive enough, particularly when they were shelved with minor or major injuries.

Some A's, including Chavez, were pulling for third-base coach Ron Washington to replace Macha. One of Washington's strengths is improving infielders' defense, and Chavez appreciated Washington so much that he gave him one of his Gold Glove awards.

But Beane took a full month to hire a manager, and he lost some respected candidates along the way, including Washington to the Rangers, Bud Black to the Padres and Manny Acta to the Nationals. In reality, Washington would have been more outspoken than Geren and perhaps more willing to challenge Beane's authority, and he'll have a better chance to do things his way in Texas.

That means he'll be free to encourage bunting, stealing and hitting-and-running, parts of the game that are mostly missing from Oakland's arsenal. Under Geren, the A's won't see much change, and the emphasis will remain on working the count and, if necessary, playing station-to-station baseball.

It won't help Geren's cause that he'll be missing the team's best pitcher, Zito, and best hitter, Frank Thomas, costly free agents the A's aren't prepared to re-sign. Thomas is heading to Toronto, and Zito is heading to a team willing to hand him more than $70 million.

While the A's hope to replace Zito with a healthy Rich Harden, they're in need of a designated hitter to replace Thomas, and they're not denying a possible interest in Barry Bonds, who's a high on-base-percentage guy like Thomas but with a lot more obvious baggage.

On one hand, it would be a wild PR move for Bonds to break Hank Aaron's record in Oakland, just across the San Francisco Bay from where Bonds won five of his MVPs and hit 558 of his home runs. On the other hand, it might be unfair to throw such a load of a player on a rookie manager.

Geren, 45, is the A's 17th manager since they moved to Oakland. He signed a two-year deal with an option for 2009. He's familiar with the organization, having served as a big-league coach the past four years (three as bullpen coach, one as bench coach) and managed four years in the A's farm system.

He also managed three years in the Red Sox's system, and his overall minor-league record is 452-390. Last year, he was a winter-league manager in the Dominican Republic.

As a big-league catcher, Geren played five seasons with the Yankees and Padres and batted .233 in 307 games.

He was a first-round pick by the Padres in 1979 after being named Player of the Year among San Diego high schoolers. During his prep career, he came across a kid from nearby Mount Carmel High School who was also a first-round pick, a year later by the Mets.

The kid's name was Billy Beane, and they've been friends ever since.

John Shea is the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.