A's fire Bob Geren; Bob Melvin interim
OAKLAND, Calif. -- With his banged-up team mired in a nine-game losing streak and rampant speculation about the tenuous status of manager Bob Geren, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane felt he had no other choice than to make a change.
Tensions between now-former A's manager Bob Geren and his players have existed for years, sources told ESPN.com. The manager created a culture of fear where if a player made one mistake, a second chance could be fleeting. Former player Mike Sweeney was released in 2008 a day after he made an impassioned speech on the team bus, grabbing the microphone and telling teammates that baseball was meant to be fun and that they were "being held captive, and the inmates need to run the prison!"
Sweeney told ESPN.com he had approached Geren on a team flight from Baltimore to Detroit and asked if he could have a players-only bus back to the hotel. Geren declined, and although he wasn't on the bus, at least two other coaches rode with the players back to the hotel. Sweeney said he felt he needed to let each players on the young team know "we are one of 750 guys who have the privilege of playing this game. Work hard, have fun, respect the game."
The next day, Sweeney said he was told the A's didn't have enough room for him and he either could go on the 60-day disabled list or be released. Sweeney told the A's to release him. He said he couldn't collect money when he wasn't hurt. When asked if he felt his release was a direct result of his rallying speech, Sweeney said, "In my heart, there was a direct line between the two, but I have no proof."
Sweeney, who retired this spring after 16 major league seasons, said he respects Geren and doesn't hold any grudges. Sweeney also repeatedly stressed he appreciated being given a chance to play in Oakland, and the next time he saw Geren and general manager Billy Beane after his release he warmly greeted them and there were no hard feelings.
"I want to make this clear," Sweeney said. "I don't want to bash Bob Geren. Bob Geren is a great man, a Christian man, a great father and husband. But I also want the story to be accurate."
The A's declined to comment.
-- ESPN.com's Amy K. Nelson
The A's fired a manager during the season for the first time in a quarter-century on Thursday, letting Geren go after four-plus seasons and bringing in former Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners skipper Bob Melvin for the rest of the season.
"It felt like at this point a change was necessary," Beane said. "It got to the point where the emphasis was on the status of the manager on a daily basis and no longer on the field. When that starts to happen, you need to shift the focus to what's really important, which is performance. That's how we came to this decision."
Geren's tenure in Oakland was marked by numerous injuries, a lack of offense, questions about his communication skills and high-profile departures as he was unable to post a winning season after taking over an AL West championship team from Ken Macha.
Geren posted a 334-376 record, including a 27-36 mark this season that has left Oakland eight games behind the Texas Rangers in last place in the AL West.
The A's currently have four starting pitchers on the disabled list, including a season-ending shoulder injury for Dallas Braden. Oakland was also without injured All-Star closer Andrew Bailey for the first two months and is last in the American League with just 223 runs through the first 63 games.
"Bob Melvin will inherit some of the challenges that Bob had," Beane said. "Bob lost four starting pitchers in the space of three weeks. That was a tough body blow for the team. That was very difficult from Bob's standpoint."
Melvin, 49, took the helm for the series opener in Chicago against the White Sox on Thursday night. He posted a 493-508 record in seven seasons as manager with Seattle and Arizona. He led the Diamondbacks to the NL West title in 2007 and also won 93 games in his rookie season with the Mariners in 2003.
Melvin was also on Bob Brenly's staff as bench coach in 2001 when the Diamondbacks won the World Series and the following year when they won the NL West. Melvin also coached for the Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers. He was fired by the Diamondbacks 29 games into the 2009 season but got another chance when Beane decided it was time to let Geren go.
"He really knows how to work with young players," said Oakland outfielder Conor Jackson, who played for Melvin in Arizona. "It's a great team for him. We have a lot of young talent and I feel like he's a pretty good molder of personalities and baseball players as well."
Melvin played 10 seasons in the majors as a catcher with the Tigers, San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and White Sox. He batted .233 with 35 homers and 212 RBIs in 1,955 career at-bats.
Melvin is a Bay Area native who was born in Palo Alto, went to high school in Menlo Park, played college ball at Cal, spent time with the Giants in the majors and now gets to manage the A's.
"It's a dream come true," he said. "This doesn't happen very often in baseball, where you literally get to come home in the capacity that I do."
The beleaguered Geren had come under criticism from his bullpen in recent weeks for a lack of communication with reliever Brian Fuentes and former Oakland closer Huston Street publicly criticized him.
That started the speculation about whether Geren would make it through his final season under contract.
"I can't say it was a surprise," Fuentes said. "Regardless whether it was our team or any other team, when things don't go well there are always moves that are made."
It was the rash of injuries and the total lack of offense that led to the current losing streak that finally spelled the end of Geren's tenure.
With no homegrown hitting stars and disappointing starts by offseason acquisitions like Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus, the A's find themselves in last place despite a stellar young pitching staff headed by All-Star Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and recently injured Brett Anderson.
Bowden: A's Needed Change
When a team doesn't win or the players don't play up to their potential, sometimes a change in leadership can make a difference. Bob Geren was the best man in Billy's Beane wedding, but that's not why he was hired and that's not why he's been fired, writes Jim Bowden. Blog
"It's got great pitching, good athletes and we're going to try to play the game we're suited to play," Melvin said. "We're probably not going to sit around and play for three-run homers a whole lot. We play in a ballpark that's probably more conducive to being aggressive and that's what we're going to try to do."
The current skid is the longest for the A's since a 10-gamer in July 2008 and the fifth-longest single-season losing streak since the team moved to Oakland in 1968.
This is the first time the A's have fired a manager during the season since getting rid of Jackie Moore after 73 games in 1986. Jeff Newman took over for 10 games on an interim basis before Tony La Russa was brought in to start a run that included four division titles and the 1989 World Series championship.
Beane said he started the process of evaluating Geren's status a few weeks ago before making the ultimate decision.
"Whenever you replace your manager, it's a drastic move," Beane said. "I've never had to do it in my tenure as general manager. This is a new script for myself. I don't know if you ever know what the right time is."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press