KANSAS CITY, Mo. Tony Pena resigned as manager of the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night, less than two seasons after he was the American League Manager of the Year.
Pena stepped down just hours after the Royals lost 3-1 to the Blue Jays in Toronto, falling to a major league-worst 8-25. Team spokesman Aaron Babcock said Pena would be replaced on an interim basis by bench coach Bob Schaefer, the first managerial change in the major leagues this season.
''I feel that at this time we have not played to the top of our abilities,'' Pena said in a statement released by the team. ''The Kansas City Royals are on the right track by committing to their young players, and I believe the Royals will be contenders for a long time if they don't change their direction.''
The Royals were one of baseball's biggest surprises in 2003, Pena's first full season in charge. They went 83-79 and contended into September before finishing third in the AL Central, earning Pena manager of the year honors. It was the team's first winning season since 1994. Kansas City hoped to challenge for the division crown last season, but got off to a terrible start and traded star center fielder Carlos Beltran in June. The Royals wound up losing a team-record 104 games. Just two weeks ago, Pena was given a vote of confidence by owner David Glass and general manager Allard Baird, who said Pena would be the manager for the rest of the season. Baird said Pena will be offered a job within the organization.
''Tony has a great passion for this organization. I am glad that he will continue to remain a part of the Royals,'' Baird said. ''He has played a major role in the development of our young players. Under Tony's leadership, he has positioned many of our young players to be the foundation for the further success of the organization. Despite our early season struggles, this team has battled with an intensity that reflects Tony's personality.''
Hampered by a tight budget, the once-proud Royals have not appeared in the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series. The team had the second-lowest opening-day payroll in the majors this season at $36.9 million, ahead of only Tampa Bay.
A catcher in the National League during most of his 18-year playing career, Pena was a coach with Houston when the Royals chose him to replace the fired Tony Muser early in the 2002 season.
''There are good people and good teachers working in this organization, from the front office all the way to the bottom. I wish this team and the fans the very best,'' Pena said.
The 60-year-old Schaefer was interim manager of the Royals for one game in 1991 between the firing of John Wathan and the hiring of Hal McRae.
''We'll take as long as we need to hire a new manager,'' Baird said. ''The timetable to fill this position is secondary to finding the right individual to manage this ballclub.''
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