The fall guy, McKeon fired

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 3, 2000

The Associated Press

Jack McKeon paid the price for not taking Ken Griffey Jr.

Tuesday, October 03, 2000

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Jack McKeon paid the price for not taking Ken Griffey Jr. to the playoffs. Buck Showalter lost his job for not keeping Arizona there.

After a season in which there were no managerial changes for the first time since 1942, skippers are finding the offseason not so secure.

McKeon and Showalter were fired Monday after finishing seasons that didn’t duplicate last year’s success despite adding high-priced star players.

”Expectations were high,” said McKeon, who couldn’t lead the Reds to the playoffs with Griffey. ”If there’s got to be a fall guy, I’ll be glad to take the responsibility.”

Pittsburgh’s Gene Lamont was also fired – one day after Terry Francona was cut loose in Philadelphia – and others could follow soon.

Los Angeles’ Davey Johnson and Toronto’s Jim Fregosi will hear about their fates in the coming weeks. Minnesota’s Tom Kelly, the senior manager in the majors at 14-plus seasons, planned to meet with Twins president Jerry Bell on Tuesday to discuss his future.

Tampa Bay’s Larry Rothschild won’t join the list of unemployed skippers, although three of his coaches were fired. Houston’s Larry Dierker and Montreal’s Felipe Alou were given reprieves last week.

Three high-profile managers could control their own fates after the postseason. San Francisco’s Dusty Baker, Seattle’s Lou Piniella and the Mets’ Bobby Valentine will be free agents and will be at the top of many teams’ lists.

Showalter, the only manager in Arizona’s three-year history, won the NL West in 1999, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Mets and fell to third place this season.

”We think that it’s time to move in another direction,” owner Jerry Colangelo said.

With an $80.8 million payroll, baseball’s sixth-highest, expectations were high in Arizona.

On May 10, the Diamondbacks were 26-10 and led the NL West by 6 1/2 games, but they slumped after that. Not even the acquisition of Curt Schilling from Philadelphia in late July provided a spark.

Colangelo acknowledged injuries and down years for some of the players were responsible for the teams’ finish.

”I am not pointing any fingers at Buck Showalter,” Colangelo said.

Reds general manager Jim Bowden said he will wait until the playoffs conclude to choose a replacement for McKeon, last year’s NL Manager of the Year.

Ken Griffey Sr. has one more year on his contract as the team’s bench coach and is a candidate to replace McKeon. Piniella, who won the 1990 World Series with Cincinnati, also could be in the running if he leaves Seattle.

”The process is going to be long and drawn out,” Bowden said. ”There are some good managers in the postseason that might be available.”

The Reds created much of the preseason buzz last February with the acquisition of Griffey. The perennial All-Star outfielder was traded from Seattle, making a return to his hometown and joining his father with the Reds.

Griffey batted .271 this year with 40 homers, 118 RBIs and 100 runs. He objected when McKeon decided to rest him and had a blowup in the dugout with his father when McKeon pulled him from a game because he hurt his knee.

The Pirates (69-93), who finished fifth in the NL Central, 26 games behind St. Louis, will head into new stadium with a new manager.

Owner Kevin McClatchy had said he wanted to take a winning team into the ballpark. Before the 2000 season began, he said the Pirates could win 90 games behind Kendall, Brian Giles and Kris Benson – a prediction he now regrets.

”You will never get another prediction from me as long as I live,” McClatchy said.

There has been widespread speculation the past month that Rothschild would not return in 2001. But general manager Chuck LaMar decided to bring him back for a fourth year.

However, bench coach Bill Russell, bullpen coach Orlando Gomez and hitting coach Leon Roberts were fired.