Tracy fired as Pirates make little progress in two seasons
PITTSBURGH -- When the Pittsburgh Pirates last fired a manager this quickly, he couldn't get his team into the World Series. Jim Tracy was let go because he didn't produce anything resembling a winning season.
Tracy was ousted Friday after two years filled with long losing streaks and little discernible progress by a team that has had 15 consecutive losing seasons, one short of the major league record.
The Pirates also fired three other baseball operations executives during an ongoing shakeup that began last month with general manager Dave Littlefield's firing.
"Jim and I worked very hard over the last week to try and see if we could make it work and to try to see how we could work going forward," said new general manager Neal Huntington, who took over with only six days left in the season. "But at the end of the day, it was decided it was probably better to part ways."
Also fired were senior director of player development Brian Graham, who once worked with Huntington in Cleveland; scouting director Ed Creech and director of baseball operations Jon Mercurio. Huntington hinted the Pirates' inability to draft and develop prospects, and evaluate players at all levels, created the shakeup.
"It became very clear to me we needed some change," Huntington said. "We needed to change our leadership."
Tracy's patience and back-patting weren't enough to turn around the Pirates, who haven't had a winning season since 1992. Tracy's teams were 67-95 in 2006 and 68-94 this season during the shortest run of any non-interim Pirates manager since Bill Virdon was ousted late into his second season in 1973.
Virdon was let go because he couldn't get Roberto Clemente's last and perhaps best team into the World Series -- the Pirates blew a 2-1 series lead in the 1972 NLCS to Cincinnati, then played only .500 ball in 1973. Such a record today likely would have gotten Tracy an extension.
Coaches Jim Lett, Jim Colborn, Jeff Manto, Jeff Cox, John Shelby and Bobby Cuellar, all under contract until the end of this month, were encouraged to seek other jobs. The new manager will be allowed to choose his coaches.
The only surprise firing was that of Graham, who served as interim general manager after Littlefield was fired last month. Former assistant GM Doug Strange was retained in the lesser role of assistant to the GM.
Huntington has an "internal list" of potential managerial candidates.
"We're not married to a date," he said. "We need to do our homework, and when the right candidate presents himself, we will know."
Asked what kind of manager he wants, Huntington said, "A manager with energy, with passion, ... who is a tireless instructor, who will instill some discipline, is an exhaustive communicator and wants to return the pride to the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Tracy has managed since 2001, going 427-383 with one division title in five seasons with the Dodgers and 135-189 with Pittsburgh. His 280 losses over the last three seasons were the most in the majors. He is due $1 million for next season, as was Littlefield.
"It didn't turn out in the manner we would liked," Tracy said. "We had some brilliant moments, but we had some bad times."
The bad times began quickly. About a month into the 2006 season, the Pirates lost a modern era club-record 13 in a row. They also lost eight in a row in late September 2006.
This season, they dropped 14 of 16 after the All-Star break and nine more in a row during their bad season-ending stretch of 13 losses in 15 games -- at the same time new team president Frank Coonelly and Huntington were taking over.
The always calm Tracy did not upset food tables or scream at his players in postgame meetings, and his persistent patience was seen by some in the organization as a lack of passion.
Tracy sometimes did not argue umpires' calls even when they were clearly wrong. And when the season ended Sunday with a fourth consecutive loss, first baseman Josh Phelps said the Pirates needed more fire and drive.
"I've been on winning teams, but here it's like, `Well, it's just another day,' " Phelps said. "That's what you've got to get rid of."
Tracy, a 51-year-old former outfielder for the Cubs, becomes the fourth manager to be fired or to leave the Pirates during their 15-year run of losing seasons, one short of the 1933-48 Phillies' major league record.
Gene Lamont (1997-2000), Lloyd McClendon (2001-05) and Tracy were let go and Jim Leyland asked out of his contract following the 1996 season to manage the Marlins.
Tracy's hiring by Littlefield in October 2005 generated minimal enthusiasm among Pirates fans after he and the Dodgers mutually parted ways following a 71-91 season in Los Angeles. Tracy promised to upgrade the level of coaching and turn around a youthful but underperforming pitching staff, but little progress was evident.
While several pitchers emerged, including left-hander Tom Gorzelanny (14-10, 3.88 ERA this season), right-hander Ian Snell (9-12, 3.76 ERA) and closer Matt Capps (18 saves), others regressed -- notably, left-hander Zach Duke, who is 13-23 since going 8-2 in 2005.
Tracy's staff also could find no solution to first baseman Adam LaRoche's miserable slump to begin this season or Jason Bay's dramatic falloff. Bay went from being one of the NL's most productive left fielders in 2006 (.286, 35 homers, 109 RBIs) to one of its least productive this season (.247, 21 homers, 84 RBIs).
Despite the Pirates' poor records under Tracy, Bay said Sunday he thought the manager should return.
"The players did respect Jim, they did feel for Jim and they feel they put him in an awful situation," Huntington said. "But, obviously, not everyone likes the leader."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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