Diamondbacks Fire Buck Showalter

Tuesday, October 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) — Buck Showalter was fired Monday as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks after a disappointing season that saw the team go from division champions to third place.

Showalter, the only manager in the team's history, was hired in November 1995, 2 1/2 years before the Diamondbacks started play and one month after he led the New York Yankees to their first playoff berth in 14 years.

But his unsmiling personality proved his undoing when owner Jerry Colangelo decided that the roster of mostly veteran players needed a lighter touch.

``I told him a long time ago, 'Buck, relax. You don't have anything to prove,''' said Colangelo, who maintained that hiring a known disciplinarian was the right move at the time.

``Five years is an eternity in pro sports for a coach, for a general manager, for a manager,'' Colangelo said. ``Buck had five years with us, and I owe him a great debt of gratitude.''

Showalter, 44, did not attend the news conference in a suite at the Bank One Ballpark, and Colangelo said he was in transit to Bristol, Conn., to do ``some ESPN work.''

He was the third manager fired Monday. Cincinnati's Jack McKeon and Pittsburgh's Gene Lamont lost their jobs earlier.

Colangelo said work would begin quickly on finding a Showalter's replacement.

``We want a solid baseball guy. Someone who has preferably spent a lot of time in major league baseball,'' Colangelo said. ``It's not a given, but being an ex-player may fit with the group we have.''

Bob Brenly, a former major league catcher and currently a Diamondbacks television announcer, has been rumored as a possible successor to Showalter. Colangelo said Brenly fit the description, but added that there were many other possibilities.

Arizona, which gave Showalter a $7 million, seven-year contract, won the NL West in 1999, going 100-62 in just its second year. The Diamondbacks lost 3-1 to the New York Mets in the first round of the playoffs and vowed to bounce back.

With an $80.8 million payroll, baseball's sixth-highest, expectations were high.

On May 10, the Diamondbacks were 26-10 and led the NL West by 6 1/2 games but they slumped after that.

Not even the acquisition of Curt Schilling from Philadelphia in late July provided a spark. Schilling went 5-6 for Arizona and Randy Johnson, 14-2 before the All-Star break, went 5-5 in his final 16 starts as the Diamondbacks finished 85-77, 12 games behind the division-leading Giants.

Home attendance dropped from 3.6 million in 1998 to 3 million in 1999 to 2.95 million this year, but team president Rich Dozer said fear of losing fans had nothing to do with the decision to fire the manager.

``I think our fan base, after the initial shrinkage, is pretty well established,'' Dozer said.

Showalter led Arizona to a 250-236 record in three years, improving his record as a major league manager to 552-505 in seven seasons.

Arizona won seven straight in mid-August, but then Erubiel Durazo had surgery on his right wrist and missed the rest of the season. In addition, Matt Williams had just 371 at-bats, Todd Stottlemyre made only 18 starts and Steve Finley and Tony Womack were out by the end of the season.

``The injuries just kept piling on, and we couldn't regroup,'' Luis Gonzalez said.

Colangelo acknowledged injuries and down years for some of the players were responsible for the teams' finish.

``So in making this announcement today, I want to make it crystal clear that I am not pointing any fingers at Buck Showalter,'' Colangelo said.

Williams had 35 home runs and 142 RBIs last year, but started this season on the disabled list after breaking his right foot during spring training and missed 58 games.

Finley hit 35 homers this year — one better than last — but none after Sept. 9. Three days later, Onan Masaoka of Los Angeles hit him on the right wrist, and Finley went into a 4-for-39 skid.

Womack, who led the NL with 14 triples, had surgery on a cyst behind his knee after the Mets eliminated the Diamondbacks from wild card contention.

Then there was Jay Bell, who had a franchise-record 38 homers and 112 RBIs last year, then slumped to 18 homers and 68 RBIs.

Gonzalez supplied some offense, setting franchise records for doubles (46) and extra-base hits (79). But Arizona scored 782 runs, down from 908 in 1999.

Closer Matt Mantei, who went on the disabled list twice because of shoulder tendinitis, saved 17 games in 20 chances and the bullpen got a boost when 38-year-old Dan Plesac decided not to retire after going 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA.

Players weren't looking for big changes.

``I want it to stay the way it is,'' Mantei said, ``because we've got a great thing going and we don't want anything to change that.''