PHOENIX -- The scene bordered on surreal, and it showed on the faces of more than a few A's. As the players went through their daily ritual of pregame batting practice on Sunday morning before hosting the Rangers, former Oakland manager Ken Macha, who was fired after the A's were swept by the Tigers in the 2006 American League Championship Series and was publicly bashed by some of the team's veterans in the immediate aftermath, walked through the gate at the back field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in an A's-green windbreaker. "I did a double-take," said shortstop Bobby Crosby, who was among the players taking batting practice on the back field at the time. "I was shocked. Not in a bad way. I've got nothing against the guy. But I was totally shocked."
Macha, who is being paid more than $1 million to not manage the A's this season, could tell. Now a part-time broadcaster for the Red Sox, he said Crosby and second baseman Mark Ellis looked like they'd seen a ghost when they got their first glimpse of their former skipper. "There were definitely some surprised looks on some faces," Macha said. "But after a while, some of the guys came over to me, and it was good. More comfortable than I thought it'd be, probably." Macha seemed even more comfortable when he made his way over to the Rangers' side of the field, where he chatted with another former A's manager, Art Howe; Macha was Howe's bench coach in Oakland from 1999-2002 before replacing Howe the next season. Howe is now the Texas bench coach for former longtime A's infield coach Ron Washington, who served under Howe and Macha in Oakland before taking over as Rangers manager before the 2007 season, and the three of them stood together, Howe and Washington flanking Macha, near the Rangers dugout during the national anthem. "I'm not sure I've ever seen something like that before," Ellis said. Macha, who was wearing a media credential, has been in Arizona for several days, catching up with various friends and acquaintances on different teams in what he hopes is a prelude to eventually getting back into the game. "The TV stuff is fine. It's something different I've gotten an opportunity to do, and I like it and they seem to like me," he said. "But I do want to get my name back out there now and start talking to some people, letting them know I'd like to get back into managing, and that's kind of what I've been doing down here."
His surprise visit to A's camp, however, had nothing to do with networking. Macha insisted he had a sole, pure motive."I never really got to thank these guys for what they did for me while I was here in person, and that's all I'm doing today," he said. "There's a lot of new faces here, but there's still some of the guys who played for me, and I wanted to let them know how much I appreciated the chance to manage them." Most of the players who laid into Macha after he was let go with two years left on his contract have moved on, but the player to whom Macha was closest during his four years at the helm in Oakland -- third baseman Eric Chavez -- remains, and the two spent several minutes chatting in the clubhouse after Macha held court in right field during BP with pitchers Chad Gaudin, Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street. "It was fun," Chavez said of seeing Macha. "I liked him. I really did. Me and him got along really well and he's a good guy. It was just a really unfortunate situation the way it ended for him here." It ended after Macha had won two AL West titles and posted a .568 winning percentage, which is the highest in A's history, so Chavez figures getting back into the dugout shouldn't be terribly difficult for him. "I think the second time around for him will be better, I really do, because everyone grows and learns from experience," Chavez said. "And look at his record. I mean, that's got to mean something, doesn't it?" Macha obviously thinks it should, but if he was tempted in any way to vent about his messy divorce from the A's or his often contentious relationship with general manager Billy Beane, he did a great job of resisting it on Sunday. "It hurt when it happened, but we're all beyond that I think," Macha said. "Billy gave me my first big league managing job, and I'll always be thankful for that, and I'll always be thankful for how hard the players here played for me." After spending several minutes chatting with Ellis in the clubhouse and warmly greeting -- and warmly being received by -- a variety of familiar faces, Macha was asked what it felt like to be an official member of the media. "This pass gets you in everywhere!" he said with a laugh. "I went over to see the Mariners play, and before the game I just walked into the clubhouse, walked up to Ichiro [Suzuki] and said, 'Ichiro, I hear you're 0-for-20. You stink!' "He was tying his shoes or something when I said it, so I don't think he knew what was going on, but when he looked up and saw me, he broke into this big smile and said, 'Hey, Ken-san!' So that was pretty neat."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.