Detroit scraps Garner

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

DETROIT -- Somebody had to go following the Tigers' 0-6 start. Detroit decided two was better, so the team fired manager Phil Garner and general manager Randy Smith on Monday.

The dismissal of Garner tied the quickest firing of a manager who started the season since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Baltimore fired Cal Ripken Sr. in 1988 after the Orioles lost six games en route to an 0-21 start.

''You could bring in MacArthur, with what they gave him to work with, and he's probably not going to come out with more wins,'' Tigers outfielder Bobby Higginson said.

Baseball's lone winless team hasn't had a winning record or a winning April since 1993.

''It's not only a short-term decision, it's a long-term decision,'' said Tigers president Dave Dombrowski, who will add the general manager's duties. ''We don't have a championship-caliber club, but we haven't played well either.''

Luis Pujols, the Tigers' bench coach, will take over as manager on an interim basis. His debut was postponed when Monday night's game against Chicago was rained out.

''It's a sad day for me and also a happy day,'' Pujols said.

Felipe Alou, fired last year as Montreal's manager, was considered a top candidate to wind up with the Tigers' job.

''I'm interested in managing,'' Alou said Monday from his home.

Alou would not say whether he had been contacted by Detroit officials. Dombrowski said he has not contacted Alou, who was Montreal's manager while Dombrowski was the Expos' general manager from 1986-91.

''We will look to interview managers as soon as possible,'' Dombrowski said. ''I have some names on a list.''

If Dombrowski decides to hire Alou, Pujols said he would have no problem working with Alou again after serving on his Expos staff from 1993-2000.

Although among the earliest firings in major league history, the dismissals of Garner and Smith were not the first this season. The Boston Red Sox replaced manager Joe Kerrigan and general manager Dan Duquette during spring training.

The Tigers hired Garner in October 1999, when he was also a candidate for an opening with the Chicago Cubs. He was considered a well-respected manager despite having a losing record with Milwaukee in seven of his final eight seasons.

In two-plus seasons with Detroit, Garner had a 145-185 record and now has a 708-802 career record with nine straight losing seasons.

''When you become a manager, you realize you're going to be judged by what you do on the field,'' Garner said.

Many had questioned Smith's future when Dombrowski, one of baseball's most respected executives, was hired away from the Marlins in November to be team president.

Smith was in his seventh year as GM of the Tigers, after serving as San Diego's GM from 1993-95. His father, Tal Smith, is the Houston Astros team president.

''I think we've done some good things,'' Randy Smith said, pointing to improvements in the drafting, scouting and development facets of the organization.

Before Smith and Garner spoke with reporters, Dombrowski addressed the notion that help was on the way from young prospects.

''I don't think people want to hear about the minor league system,'' he said. ''People want results.''

Both Garner's and Smith's contracts were set to expire after the 2003 season.

''This is obviously, in my opinion, something they had planned for a while,'' Higginson said. ''Wins and losses are how you're evaluated, and Phil's win-loss record wasn't the greatest. But did they give Phil what he needed to win? I don't think so.''

Dombrowski said with the Tigers' payroll of about $54 million, Detroit should be at the level of San Francisco, Oakland, St. Louis and Houston.

''Our payroll is sufficient to be competitive,'' Dombrowski said.

Smith was often criticized in Detroit for moves that didn't work. He has seen players such as Juan Gonzalez, Luis Gonzalez and Hideo Nomo go on to success with other teams.

Owner Mike Ilitch hoped Comerica Park, the Tigers' home since 2000, would provide the financial boost that would translate to a higher payroll and a better team. However, Detroit finished 66-96 a year ago and 79-83 in 2000.

In Garner's first season in Detroit, the team reflected the competitive spirit that Tigers executives hoped would be instilled by the man who as a player was nicknamed ''Scrap Iron.''

However, last year's payroll was cut, stunting any momentum the franchise gained in 2000.

''I didn't come here to rebuild,'' said Garner, who refused to be critical of his previous employer.

The 2001 season was marred by cliques and clashes among the Tigers and squabbling between Garner and some of the players, including outfielder Roger Cedeno, who departed via free agency to the New York Mets.

Pujols is Detroit's fourth manager since Sparky Anderson's 17-season tenure ended in 1995.

Pujols spent last season, his first in the Tigers' organization, as manager at Double-A Erie following his stint in Montreal. The 46-year-old was a major-league catcher in Houston (1977-83) -- with Garner as a teammate -- Kansas City (1984) and Texas (1985).

''When you become a coach, you always want to get to the top,'' said Pujols, a Dominican Republic native.

Notes: Detroit's Steve Sparks is to start Tuesday against Dan Wright and Jose Lima will face Chicago's Jon Garland on Wednesday. Mark Buehrle will start Chicago's home opener Friday against Baltimore.

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