CHICAGO Frustrated that yet another talent-laden team fell short of the postseason, the Chicago White Sox decided it was time to change directions.
And manager Jerry Manuel was the first to be left behind.
Manuel was fired Monday, a day the White Sox originally hoped to spend getting ready for the playoffs. But after taking a two-game lead in the AL Central on Sept. 9, the White Sox collapsed in stunning fashion, losing 10 of their next 15 to finish four games behind Minnesota at 86-76.
''This wasn't a case of not having enough talent,'' general manager Kenny Williams said Monday.
''It's very difficult at this time to sit here, knowing the type of talent we had and what possibly could have happened if we would have just gotten into the dance,'' he said. ''To sit here and have to go through this is very difficult. But you have to start looking at yourself in the mirror.''
While he refused to criticize Manuel, Williams said the team needed to change its ''voice and direction.''
There will be changes on the field, too, though Williams said he hopes to keep his pitching staff intact and has made re-signing Bartolo Colon a priority.
The search for a new manager begins immediately, and Williams hopes to choose someone after the World Series ends in late October. All of Manuel's coaching staff will be retained except for Bruce Kimm, the third-base coach.
Hargrove fired by Orioles after four losing seasons
BALTIMORE Mike Hargrove was a winner in Cleveland, taking a perennial loser to the World Series twice.
He couldn't pull off a sufficient encore in Baltimore, and now he's going to have to go somewhere else in search of his 1,000th victory as a major league manager.
Hargrove was fired by the Orioles on Monday, one day after Baltimore completed its fourth consecutive losing season under his direction and sixth straight overall.
The move was made during a 15-minute meeting with Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, the vice presidents who oversee the team's baseball operations.
The duo appreciated Hargrove's effort and professional demeanor, but became convinced that someone else was needed to reverse the club-record run of losing seasons.
''It came down to the fact that we were looking to go in a fresh direction. It's that simple,'' Flanagan said.
Said Beattie: ''We feel that it's time for a change. A new manager is the proper thing for us to do.''
Hargrove, 53, went 275-372 with the Orioles, including 71-91 this year. His departure did not come as a complete surprise, given that his contract expires on Nov. 1 and the team never discussed an extension.
Baseball attendance flat
NEW YORK Baseball attendance picked up in the second half of the season, with the final average of 28,055 down just slightly from last year.
With terrible weather in the northern part of the country during early part of the season, the average had been down 7 percent on April 20 and 5 percent at the end of May.
The commissioner's office, in announcing the final, unofficial, figures on Monday, said the poor first half also was partly to ''the weak economy, the war in Iraq and the SARS scare that particularly struck Toronto.''
This year's final average was down 0.4 percent from last year's 28,168 and was the lowest since 1996. The average stabilized after falling from 30,099 in 2000 to 30,012 in 2001 and then dropping 6.1 percent last year.
Baseball games fastest since 1989
NEW YORK If the baseball season seemed to go by quickly, that's because it did.
The average time of a nine-inning game dropped six minutes this year to 2:46, the fastest since 1989.
Following years of talk, the sport's speed-up initiatives finally took hold. After peaking at 2:58 three years ago, the average fell to 2:54 in 2001 and 2:52 in 2002.
''I expect we'll be able reduce it a little bit further next year,'' Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, said Monday.
''We started to involve some of the peripheral elements, such as video board, the music, so those kinds of things weren't dictating the pace of the game, rather than the game itself,'' he said. ''And this year we involved the umpires and the players.''
Postseason games have lasted even longer, averaging 3:25 last year, including 3:38 for the World Series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
''I remember watching the Yankees in the playoffs last year,'' Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. ''I was able to watch it through the second inning, then I had to leave for a couple of hours. When I came back, it was only the bottom of the fifth.''
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire thinks the pressure of the situation causes the slowdown.
''Every pitch means something, so you take a little more time to make sure you're on the same page,'' he said. ''In the playoffs, the intensity is up. You don't want to miss a sign. The detail is there.''
While game times fell, offense increased slightly this year. Average runs per game rose from 9.24 to 9.46, still well below the 10.58 average in 2000. Home runs increased from an average of 2.09 to 2.14, below the peak of 2.34 three years ago.
No player hit 50 homers for the first time in a full season since 1993. Ten players hit 40 or more homers, up from eight last year but below the 16 in 2000. Thirty reached 30 homers, an increase of two, but down from 47 three years ago, and 37 had 100 of more RBIs, an increase of one.
The major league batting average rose from .261 to .264, and the ERA increased from 4.27 to 4.39. Strikeouts dropped from 12.94 to 12.68, its lowest average since 1995, when it was 12.61. Walks fell from 6.70 to 6.53.
AP Sports Writers Mike Fitzpatrick and Paul Newberry contributed to this story
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