"They called me Wonder Boy and all that other garbage," Rene Lachemann says. "Let's see what kind of manager I am." After being fired by Seattle on June 25, Lachemann was flooded with various job offers from 17 of the other 25 clubs. He chose Milwaukee. "If a job came open here, I was going to take it, no matter what it was," he says.
Lachemann takes over what was surely the best fifth-place team in history. "Nobody realizes that with all the problems we had, we still won 87 games," general manager Harry Dalton says. Pitchers Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich—the 1981 and '82 Cy Young winners, respectively—missed most (Vuckovich) or all ( Fingers) of '83 but threw well this spring. Lachemann hopes only that Fingers, 37, comes back close to what he was. Says Fingers, "I'm sure I'm not going to throw as hard as I used to. Not consistently, anyway. I'll work a little more on trying to trick 'em."
In several ways, the Brewers are stronger than a year ago, when they were defending league champs. Pete Ladd (2.55 ERA, 25 saves) proved his mettle over an entire season. Centerfielder Rick Manning, whom the Brewers received from Cleveland in the Gorman Thomas trade, improves the outfield defense, and with the off-season acquisition of Jim Sundberg from Texas, Milwaukee is now stronger behind the plate.
Sundberg didn't get along with Ranger manager Doug Rader, and hit only .201. "I stayed a year too long," Sundberg says. If anyone was happier than Sundberg about the trade, it was Ted Simmons, who'll become the DH. When Sundberg fell down after fouling a ball off his foot in an intrasquad game, the Brewer mock-pleading loudest for him to get up was Simmons.
Besides having the league's best infield ( Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor and a healthy Robin Yount, who had back trouble last season and still hit .308), the Brewers seem to be hungry again. "It's tough mentally to repeat," Cooper says. "You take the attitude that, 'We did it before, we can do it again,' and without thinking about it, you don't put forth the same effort and concentration."
The Brewer who has improved the most, though, is Lachemann, who traded Seattle for Milwaukee, straight-up. Before the first exhibition game, Lachemann stood in the dugout and said, "I penciled in Molitor batting first, and I pinched myself when I kept writing in the rest of those names."