Season of expectation blows up on Melvin
SEATTLE -- Bob Melvin is out as manager of the Seattle Mariners. If there's a bright side, he's sure getting a glowing performance review from the guy who let him go.
Melvin was fired Monday, a day after Seattle ended its worst season in 12 years with its 99th loss. He lasted two seasons, getting the news during a congenial but difficult meeting with general manager Bill Bavasi.
"There is a point where you shed a tear," Bavasi said. "It's really difficult. It is awful."
The GM said the decision "crystalized in my mind" over the past five or six days, and that team chairman Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong supported the move. However, Bavasi refused to explain the reasons.
"I shared those with Bob. It was a real private conversation," he said.
Melvin, who led the Mariners to a 93-69 record in 2003 after Lou Piniella left for Tampa Bay, wasn't available for comment.
He indicated to reporters Sunday that he still wanted to manage the Mariners, but Melvin might get another chance elsewhere.
Bavasi said he called an undisclosed club to suggest Melvin be considered for a managerial vacancy. During a lengthy news conference, Bavasi spoke highly of Melvin and insisted the Seattle organization liked him.
"To the untrained eye, I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth," Bavasi said. "We just let him go, but I'm recommending him. In this crazy business, that fits because he will do things differently the second time. He had some bad luck here."
Bavasi insisted there were no relationship or communications issues with Melvin, and he acknowledged that Melvin probably didn't have enough talent on the field to win this season.
He said team officials recognized holes in their aging lineup as early as March. They privately predicted other AL West teams would need to slip for the Mariners to be competitive.
Bavasi emphasized that the front office wasn't assigning sole responsibility for the rough season to Melvin, saying there was plenty of blame available and listing the front office, scouts, the manager and the players.
"I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Bob," said Bavasi. "He's a real good man. He works hard. He cares about his players."
The Mariners made the decision even after exercising Melvin's contract option for the 2005 season in May, after Seattle started 9-16.
"We felt it was the right thing to do for Bob at the time," Bavasi said. "These jobs have so little security. In the grand scheme, a little financial security going forward was the right thing."
Bavasi had no timetable for hiring a successor, nor would he say what the front office wants in the next manager. He refused to discuss names, saying only that he hopes to work quickly.
"We'll probably target somebody, go after them, and go from there," he said.
Potential candidates include Angels bench coach Joe Maddon, who was in Anaheim when Bavasi was general manager there. Maddon handled the team for the final 29 games in 1999 after Terry Collins resigned.
The Mariners quietly hired Jimy Williams to evaluate their minor league system after he was fired by Houston this season. He was among the candidates interviewed when Collins got the Angels job in 1997.
"You can't cross anybody off the list," Bavasi said.
The Mariners' players left spring training expecting to contend for a playoff spot. Instead, they started slow and finished 63-99, barely avoiding their first 100-loss season since 1983.
The front office also told most of the coaching staff -- hitting coach Paul Molitor, bench coach Rene Lachemann, first base coach Mike Aldrete, third base coach Dave Myers and bullpen coach Orlando Gomez -- they are free to pursue other jobs, though each remains under contract with Seattle through Oct. 31.
The exception is pitching coach Bryan Price, who is under contract with the club through 2005.
Bavasi called the Mariners "a club in transition."
Whoever gets the managerial job will take over a club with one of the best singles hitters in history. Ichiro Suzuki set a season record with 262 hits, breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old mark.
Infielders Jose Lopez, Greg Dobbs, Justin Leone and Bucky Jacobsen -- a potential successor to retiring DH Edgar Martinez -- performed well after being called up, and left-hander Bobby Madritsch made a strong bid for next year's rotation.
There are problems to address, though. Seattle ranked last in the American League in runs scored (857), RBIs (658) and home runs (136).
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press