White Sox Fire Manager Jerry Manuel

Monday, September 29th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams thought he was going to be spending the day after the season ended on a plane, traveling to the playoffs.

Instead, he was in his office for a third straight year, trying to figure out where it all went wrong and, more importantly, how to keep it from happening again next season.

``If you don't get it done, you have to try to find a new plan of action or find out where you have missed the boat,'' Williams said Monday. ``We have tried a number of things talent-wise, personnel-wise, coach-wise.''

So now it's time to try a new manager. Confirming what had been widely assumed for the past week, Williams announced Monday that he had fired manager Jerry Manuel.

The White Sox had a two-game lead in the AL Central on Sept. 9, only to collapse in spectacular fashion. They lost 10 of their next 15, finishing four games behind Minnesota at 86-76.

``What I've determined is that we need a new direction in the dugout,'' Williams said. ``I've also determined that we're going to make some adjustments in terms of player personnel. I know that there is an urge for everyone to point a finger in the direction and say, `It's this person's fault or this person's fault.'

``I choose to think it was an all-out group effort.''

Williams hopes to hire a new manager shortly after the World Series ends in late October. All of Manuel's coaching staff will be retained except for Bruce Kimm, the third-base coach.

Williams didn't say who is on his wish list, but Cito Gaston, who led Toronto to World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, could be a possibility. So might Cleveland bench coach Buddy Bell and Double-A Birmingham manager Wally Backman.

Manuel was well-liked in the clubhouse, and players all said he wasn't responsible for their shortcomings. But it was clear somebody was going to take the blame for the team not making the playoffs.

On paper, the White Sox had the most talent in the AL Central. They'd acquired Bartolo Colon and Billy Koch in the offseason, and they bolstered an already potent offense by trading for Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett on July 1.

With Frank Thomas, Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez, the White Sox should have cruised to a title in the weak AL Central.

Instead, they got off to a slow start, and were 8 1/2 games back by the first week of June. Though they rallied and were in first place as recently as Sept. 15, they were annoyingly inconsistent. They went 11-8 against both the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, but 4-2 against the New York Yankees.

And after taking the first two games of a four-game series against the Twins in Chicago earlier this month, the White Sox dropped the next two. The following week, they were swept in Minnesota to all but seal their fate.

``At times, we lost our focus,'' Williams said. ``(The Twins), quite simply, went out and grinded their way and busted their tails and scraped and scratched their way into knocking us right out of this thing.

``And I've got much respect for them for doing that.''

After the White Sox were officially eliminated last Tuesday, Williams said he told Manuel he wouldn't be brought back for the last year of his contract.

While Manuel never confirmed his dismissal, he said his goodbyes over the last week and spoke openly about his desire to manage again.

``It was a tough summer for me personally, but I wouldn't trade it,'' he said after Sunday's season finale in Kansas City. ``I came here to be a servant, not a celebrity. Obviously, that changed, but I don't have any regrets.''

Reached at his home Monday, Manuel declined to comment.

``Jerry's a solid man, everybody knows that,'' pitching coach Don Cooper said Monday. ``Sometimes tough things happen to good people. You see it every day in the real world. Nobody's happy about this.''

An unfailingly patient man who was as well-versed in the teachings of Ghandi as he was in baseball, Manuel was 500-471 in six seasons in Chicago. The White Sox were .500 or better in each of the past four seasons, and finished below second place only once under Manuel, in 2001.

The White Sox won the AL Central in 2000, earning Manuel the AL Manager of the Year award. But the White Sox could never match that success.

``I looked the man straight in his eye and I told him, `I feel like I failed you as well,''' Williams said. ``I think that should be any supervisor's role or attitude if they have to make a move with someone that reports to them. They have to share the burden of the rest if that person doesn't succeed.

``So you're absolutely right, I share that burden as I sit here today.''