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Pirates fire McClendon, on way to fifth losing season

PITTSBURGH -- Lloyd McClendon was the first Pittsburgh Pirates manager brought back after four consecutive losing seasons. One loss away from a fifth such season, the Pirates decided they wanted someone else running the club.

McClendon, an aggressive former player known for his competitiveness and frequent run-ins with umpires, was fired Tuesday after averaging more than 90 losses since 2001 for a perennially non-contending team.

Bench coach Pete Mackanin will be the interim manager for the rest of the season.

The talent-thin Pirates, who only this season began a concerted
effort to rebuild with youth, are an NL-worst 55-82 following a
4-2, 12-inning loss Tuesday night to Arizona.

The Pirates held a club option on McClendon for 2006 and, after an encouraging start that saw them reach .500 at 30-30 on June 11, they talked to him about next season. But they have since lost 52 of 77 games and appear headed for their fourth season of 90 or more losses since 1999, despite having players such as Jason Schmidt, Jason Kendall, Brian Giles and Jason Bay during that time, though their depth of talent never matched that of contending teams.

"The way we've played the last three months hasn't been up to
our capabilities," general manager Dave Littlefield said. "We
have higher expectations with the players we have. We should be
performing better."

Despite being fired from his first managing job, McClendon said
he plans to -- and expects -- to manage again, and hopes to be back
in the majors in some capacity next season.

"I'm 46 -- there's a lot of managing left in me, about 20 years
worth," he said.

This season isn't an anomaly for the Pirates -- they have not had
a winning season since taking the NL East in 1992 with Barry Bonds
in their lineup and are headed for a 10th consecutive losing season
under managing general partner Kevin McClatchy's ownership group.

The Pirates have debuted seven rookies since the season began, including unbeaten left-hander Zach Duke (6-0) and center fielder
Chris Duffy (.341). Littlefield clearly wasn't happy with the
younger players' development.

"We've been losing two of every three games -- that's not
acceptable," Littlefield said. "We haven't been performing
relative to our talent level. It became evident we needed to try
something different. It wasn't working. ... We were
underperforming."

The Pirates have lost five straight, 10 of 11 and 15 of 19. They
also have lost nine in a row at home, their longest streak since
PNC Park opened in 2001. As a result, the players could see the
firing coming, and many are waiting to see what's next.

"There's no shock, there's no surprise, but it's just an
unfortunate day," outfielder Rob Mackowiak said.

Bay, last year's NL rookie of the year, said, "Maybe this is a
wakeup call for us, too, to say `Hey, we're shaking things up,'
and, hopefully, it can help motivate us."

Once they lose another game, the Pirates' 13 consecutive losing
seasons will be three short of the major league record.

"I know we haven't been playing well, but I was somewhat
surprised," McClendon said. "We've struggled for so long, but now
that we've got a group of good young players, some excellent young
pitching, I was excited to see what we could do. But I've been with
the Pirates for 15 years, and I appreciate the opportunity and wish
them well."

Littlefield plans to evaluate the final 26 games of the season
before making a decision on a new manager, no doubt to prevent
day-to-day speculation about who will be hired. Mackanin hopes to
be considered, but McClatchy said the team intends to hire a
manager with previous major league experience.

McClendon had never managed above the fall developmental league
level before being hired in 2000 and, McClatchy said, "We've
already gone down that road."

One of baseball's top managerial candidates, Jim Leyland, wants
to manage again, and close to his Pittsburgh home. Leyland managed
the Pirates from 1986-96, but asked out of his contract so he could
manage a contender. Leyland won the World Series a year later with
Florida, but quit managing after the 1999 season with Colorado.

McClatchy said Leyland didn't burn any bridges with the Pirates
by leaving, and Littlefield is free to hire him if he wants.

"All I'll say is this is Dave's decision -- he can entertain
anyone he wants. I'm not going to try to sway him one way or
another," McClatchy said. "I'm fine with what happened and that
was a long time ago. Whoever Dave picks, we want someone who gives
us the best chance to win."

Leyland, who attended Tuesday night's Diamondbacks-Pirates game
as a Cardinals scout, wouldn't rule out a return but didn't say if
he would pursue it.

"It's well-known that I interviewed with Philadelphia last
winter and I'd like to manage again," Leyland said. "But I'm not
going to comment about any specific job."

Oakland manager Ken Macha also lives in Pittsburgh and was very
disappointed when he didn't get the job in 2000.

"I'm not answering any questions about Pittsburgh. I have a job
here in Oakland," said Macha, whose contract is up after this
season.

McClatchy and Littlefield said McClendon's Aug. 24 batting
practice run-in with the St. Louis coaching staff and his one-game
suspension -- batting coach Gerald Perry was suspended for eight
games -- had no effect on his firing. The incident led Cardinals
coach Dave Duncan to label McClendon "an idiot."

Still, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, with whom McClendon had
an on-field confrontation last season, said, "I thought he did a
good job of keeping the club competitive every time we saw them."

McClendon also has had a contentious relationship with umpires,
beginning when he picked up first base and carried it off the field
to protest a call in 2001.

"Mac's a very competitive person and this has been difficult
for him the last couple of weeks," said Mackanin, who was cheered
by fans before the game. "It's not easy when you're not winning.
... I don't have a magic bullet, but I'm going to do the best I can
to get something positive out of the last three weeks."