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Howe gets to finish 2nd season as manager

9/15/2004 - New York Mets

NEW YORK -- The New York Mets fired manager Art Howe on
Wednesday but left him in the dugout for the final 2½ weeks of a
season gone bad after the All-Star break.

General manager Jim Duquette said he wanted to announce the
firing after the year, but was forced to act this week after news
broke of his plan. He said he asked Howe to stay for the final 17
games, and the manager agreed.

"The fact is, I'm not fired now. I'm leaving after the
season," Howe said during an awkward day at Shea Stadium. "I'm
not a quitter."

"You see it happen to other people," he said. "You always
hope it doesn't happen to you."

Howe's contract runs through the 2006 season and he's still owed
$4.7 million. But with the Mets at 63-82 -- following a 66-95 finish
last year in his first season -- management decided it was time for
a change.

"I saw strength and courage and conviction when I met Art Howe
and I said, 'Let's go," owner Fred Wilpon said on a conference
call. "I take full responsibility that the results weren't
there."

Wilpon said Duquette would choose the next manager, and there
are sure to be plenty of prominent names in the mix.

Former Mets stars Gary Carter, Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman
have been mentioned, as have current major league managers Lou
Piniella and Buck Showalter, along with former Arizona manager Bob
Brenly. Even former manager Bobby Valentine, who guided the Mets to
the 2000 World Series, could get a look.

The Mets began the year with a payroll over $100 million,
highest in the NL. But injuries took their toll, and they rapidly
fell out of contention after the midseason break.

"I don't want to get into an evaluation of Art," Duquette
said. "It wasn't working."

It was not certain the last time a team let a lame-duck manager
stay in the dugout for so long. In the NFL last season, coach Jim
Fassel asked the New York Giants to announce his firing but allow
him to stay for the final two games, and he did.

Howe told the team about the move before they took batting
practice, and said the clubhouse was "very quiet." Critics often
said Howe was too laid-back and too easy on his players -- in fact,
outfielder Richard Hidalgo and pitcher Victor Zambrano walked into
the meeting after it already had started.

Howe and Duquette later met the media in the manager's office to
talk about the decision. It made for at least one uncomfortable
moment -- after Howe was done speaking and sipping his coffee, a
Mets official asked him to get out of his chair to make room for
Duquette.

Later, Wilpon talked to Mets' flagship radio station WFAN and
the interview grew a bit contentious. It got so loud that a Mets
employee was asked to turn off the sound system -- which was tuned
to WFAN -- in the Shea elevator used by suite holders, pricey fans
and club officials.

News broke earlier this week that the Mets would not keep Howe,
who guided Oakland to playoff appearances from 2000-02, after this
season. He met with Duquette and Wilpon on Tuesday, and Duquette
told Howe the plans but also asked him to serve out the season.

"I've never walked away from anything. I've never quit
anything," Howe said.

Howe and Duquette both said injuries had hurt the Mets. Stars
Mike Piazza, Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and many others have been
banged up.

The Mets were only one game out of the NL East lead when they
won their first game after the All-Star break. But after July 15,
they went on a 16-38 skid that dropped them far out of contention.

The Mets went into Wednesday night's meeting with Atlanta
trailing the division-leading Braves by 22 games.

"It's unfortunate," Floyd said. "We all know that when things
don't go well on the field, the first person to take the blame is
the manager."

Asked what Howe said at the start of the meeting, Floyd said he
missed that part of the talk.

Howe, 57, said he'd think later about whether he'd want to
manage in the future.

"After this season, I'm going to have to thaw out, to say the
least," he said.