Rangers, Mets fire managers

Posted: Wednesday, October 02, 2002

NEW YORK -- For Bobby Valentine and Jerry Narron, last place meant no more last chances.

Two more managers paid the price Tuesday for disappointing seasons as the New York Mets and Texas Rangers decided to change dugout direction.

That brought to five the number of managers dismissed since Sunday, the last day of the season. The Chicago Cubs fired Bruce Kimm that day while Detroit let go Luis Pujols and Tampa Bay dropped Hal McRae on Monday.

In each case, no replacement was named.

The rapid rate of firings was not unprecedented. As recently as 1999, there were seven managerial changes in the offseason.

Valentine sensed he was in trouble during a 12-game losing streak and a National League-record 15-game home losing streak that doomed the Mets' season. Owner Fred Wilpon repeatedly said both the manager and general manager Steve Phillips would be back next season for the final year of their contracts.

Valentine noted the endorsement and observed that the boss could always change his mind.

Wilpon did just that -- at least half of it.

The owner fired Valentine, two days after the dreary Mets finished in last place and two years after they played in the World Series. Phillips survived, largely because Wilpon thought the Mets' problems were on the field, not the front office.

''We put very good players in place who didn't play very well,'' Wilpon said. ''I believe the guys are as good as we all thought, a very competitive team. I still believe it's a very competitive team. I think they'll play far, far better next year.''

Valentine was gone after a 75-86 season and the team's first basement finish since 1993. It was also the Mets' first sub-.500 record in six years, all of them with Valentine at the helm.

Phillips, the architect of a $95 million reconstructed roster of high-profile players who underachieved, survived because Wilpon thought his moves were good ones, even if they didn't work.

''In my view, Steve has done a creative job putting this team on the field,'' the owner said. ''They're good players who did not play well. I think they will play well together. I felt the change that was necessary was change on the field.''

Phillips agreed with Valentine's dismissal but said he did not suggest it. ''I didn't have to,'' he said. ''I'm glad it didn't get to that point.''

Narron's Rangers were worse than the Mets, finishing 72-90 and in last place for the third straight season. Like Valentine, he had one year left on his contract.

''This has been a very difficult decision because I like and respect Jerry Narron,'' Texas general manager John Hart said. ''But we have to make some tough decisions now. Our fans deserve better than the record and performance of the 2002 Texas Rangers.''

Especially since the opening-day payroll was $105 million.

Hart and assistant GM Grady Fuson met with owner Tom Hicks and announced the change.

''I am convinced that John and Grady have made a thorough and complete evaluation in reaching the decision to change managers,'' Hicks said.

Like Valentine, Narron may have been doomed by a bad finish. Texas lost 13 of its last 16 games, including a closing 1-9 road trip. The Rangers finished 31 games behind AL West champion Oakland.

Despite a big season by shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who led the majors with 57 homers and 142 RBIs, the Rangers could not overcome a rash of injuries.

Texas had 17 players spend a team-record 1,429 days on the disabled list, including closer Jeff Zimmerman, two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez, 10-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and expected No. 1 starter Chan Ho Park.

Narron used 51 players, including a club-record 27 pitchers.



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