CLEVELAND -- Charlie Manuel wanted to remain manager of the Cleveland Indians so badly that it cost him the job he loved.
Manuel was fired Thursday by the struggling AL Central champions, who opened the season's second half by making their biggest rebuilding move yet.
Manuel, who was in the final year of his contract with the Indians, demanded a long-term deal during a Wednesday meeting with club officials who had other plans.
''Charlie felt strongly that now was the time to make a long-term commitment to him,'' Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. ''I felt strongly with the changes that have been made, with the uncertain ground we're on and the transition we're in ... I wasn't ready to make that commitment to Charlie.
''I wanted Charlie to stay. I really did. I'm really disappointed.''
The Indians have been one of baseball's biggest disappointments this season. And the perennial AL power recently shifted into to a full-fledged rebuilding mode by trading ace Bartolo Colon to Montreal for minor league prospects.
Cleveland lost the opener of a four-game series against the New York Yankees 7-4 on Thursday night, dropping the Indians to 39-48, 10 1/2 games behind division-leading Minnesota.
Manuel, who had been in the Indians' organization since 1988, said walking away was difficult.
''I've had great memories here,'' Manuel said when reached by telephone. ''Everything was great, except this. It was tough. I love the Indians and the job.''
Manuel, who went 220-190 with the Indians, was the seventh manager fired since the season began.
Third-base coach Joel Skinner was appointed interim manager, and Shapiro said Skinner will be a candidate to become the full-time manager after the season.
Skinner, 41, who caught for the Indians from 1989-91, was the minor league manager of the year in 1998 at Cleveland's Double-A Akron affiliate.
Skinner said he got word that he would become the club's 38th manager at 1:45 p.m. while picking up his son and some friends.
''They got in the car, and I said, 'Can you guys keep a secret?''' said Skinner, whose father, Bob, managed Philadelphia and San Diego in the '70s. ''Those four guys were the first to know.''
There had been growing speculation the Indians might replace the 58-year-old Manuel, who last week said he felt he was the best candidate to help the team's young players develop.
But the Indians decided not only to reshape their roster, but to change managers as well.
''It had less to do with Charlie and more to do with the circumstances around him,'' Shapiro said. ''This was not something I expected to do.''
Shapiro said he was surprised when Manuel insisted that he get a commitment from the club beyond October.
''I wanted to have one meeting, and Charlie wanted to have another,'' Shapiro said.
Manuel said he doesn't regret his decision to force the Indians' hand.
''I wanted some answers,'' he said. ''I didn't want to be in limbo. I don't think my stubbornness cost me.''
The Indians have sputtered offensively this season after trading Roberto Alomar and not re-signing Juan Gonzalez. Owner Larry Dolan told Shapiro to trim $15 million off last season's $91 million payroll, and it is expected to drop further.
The firing shocked many of the players.
''I love Charlie,'' third baseman Travis Fryman said. ''Mark didn't give Charlie the answer that was satisfactory to him. It's an awkward time on this team. I think a lot of players, especially the older guys have a lot of questions as to where things are going.''
Manuel's last appearance in an Indians uniform was Tuesday night as one of the AL coaches at the All-Star game.
Manuel met with Shapiro and Dolan after returning from Milwaukee, and spoke of his desire for a contract extension.
Shapiro told Manuel he wanted him to stay the rest of the season, and with Dolan's help, the first-year GM tried to convince Manuel not to leave.
''I told him yesterday to go home and think it over. He came back today and hadn't changed his position. He was adamant, stubborn even,'' Shapiro said.
The Indians started the season 11-1, but injuries and a lack of production in key spots led to their freefall.
Cleveland moved into a rebuilding phase last month when it traded Colon. The Indians are looking to make other deals before the July 31 deadline as they rebuild with young position players and a strong pitching staff.
Skinner, who played for an Indians team that changed managers, said it's not always an easy transition.
''It's a shock from a player standpoint,'' he said. ''It's something you have to digest and go through.''
Manuel was in his third season as manager after being named to replace Mike Hargrove in November 1999.
The Indians won 90 games under Manuel in 2000 but failed to win the Central and make the playoffs for the first time since 1995. They won 91 games in 2001, reclaiming the division from Chicago but were knocked out by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
Manuel, who underwent heart surgery while with the team as a coach, also had health problems in his first two seasons as manager, battling an infected colon.
He missed 13 games last season because of colon surgery and wasn't with the club to celebrate when it clinched the Central.
Now he's gone for good.
''It's hard to leave,'' he said.
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