Toronto Blue Jays fire manager Buck Martinez after horrible start

Monday, June 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TORONTO (CP) _ The Toronto Blue Jays fired manager Buck Martinez on Monday after the team's worst start in two decades.

The Jays, whose 20-33 record entering Monday's action was fourth-worst in the majors, swept a three-game series with Detroit on the weekend. But that didn't stop GM J.P. Ricciardi, in his first year at the Jays' helm, from axing the manager.

Third base coach Carlos Tosca was hired as Martinez's replacement.

``The goal is to be a better club in September than we are now and we feel like Carlos can help us to get there,'' Ricciardi said.

Rumours of Martinez's dismissal began swirling after the Jays dropped to 8-20 at SkyDome following a pair of three-game sweeps to Cleveland and Boston last week.

Only Tampa Bay, Detroit and Milwaukee have worse records in the majors than the Jays.

There's still another season left on the three-year deal Martinez signed in November 2000 after leaving the broadcast booth and taking over the Jays without any managerial experience.

Martinez admitted to struggling in his first season but the Jays remained competitive with an 80-82 record in 2001.

``Coming in as a manager at the major league level is a tremendous challenge,'' he said as spring training wrapped up this March. ``And not having any managerial experience, any coaching experience at any level, I didn't realize what a difficult task that was.

``But having a year under my belt and having a very supportive GM and coaching staff I think we're well prepared for Year 2.''

He wasn't given much of a chance. Ricciardi gutted the team _ and continues to do so _ leaving Martinez a younger, less experienced squad that needs to make mistakes before it gets any better.

Martinez had hoped hard work and a good attitude would help ease the loss of veteran talent, but it appeared in recent weeks as though he had lost his clubhouse.

Ricciardi, 43, took over last November, and began building the future of the Jays immediately by acquiring rookie third baseman Eric Hinske from Oakland in exchange for closer Billy Koch. Ricciardi also handed full-time starting jobs to youngsters such as shortstop Felipe Lopez, outfielder Vernon Wells and pitchers Roy Halladay, Brandon Lyon, Luke Prokopec (acquired from L.A) and more recently Joe Lawrence.

Ricciardi chopped $13 million US from the payroll before the first game of the season was even played, getting rid of Koch, Alex Gonzalez, Brad Fullmer and Paul Quantrill of Port Hope, Ont., among others, and making the job even that much more demanding for the second-year Martinez.

Veteran left-handed relievers Pedro Borbon and Dan Plesac were dealt recently, replaced by less-experience pitchers.

Raul Mondesi and Darrin Fletcher appear to be the next on the way out.

Martinez wasn't helped by the fact he started the season with his three highest-paid pitchers on the disabled list. Staff ace Chris Carpenter has made only one start this season because of shoulder problems. Esteban Loaiza recently returned and Steve Parris remains sidelined.

Martinez, 53, played 17 major-seasons, his last six with Toronto (1981-86), compiling a career .225 batting average in 1,049 games. Not blessed with great speed or overwhelming power, Martinez persevered as a player through hard work and preparation, characteristics that also helped the native of Redding, Calif., develop into a respected broadcaster.

Martinez joined TSN as a baseball analyst in 1987 and had worked with ESPN in a similar capacity starting in 1992.

Martinez was the third person to go from the broadcast booth to the dugout. Larry Dierker led Houston to three National League Central titles, and Arizona hired Bob Brenly the same week as Martinez was brought in by Toronto. Brenly won a World Series ring last fall.

Martinez was the eighth manager in Toronto's history and third in four years, replacing Jim Fregosi, when former GM Gord Ash selected Martinez after several interviews.

The fact that Martinez wasn't a Ricciardi hire was also a factor that wasn't working in his favour.