Yost fired as Brewers continue late-season slump

Published 11:20 am Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MILWAUKEE (AP) — In an unprecedented move, the Milwaukee Brewers fired manager Ned Yost on Monday, hoping to pull out of another late-season slump that has jeopardized the team’s chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

Third-base coach Dale Sveum will take over as interim manager for the remainder of the season. The Brewers have lost seven of eight and fallen into a tie with Philadelphia for the NL wild-card lead.

It marked the first time in major league history — except the strike-split 1981 season — that a manager was fired in August or later with his team in playoff position, the Elias Sports Bureau said.

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At 83-67, the Brewers have just 12 games to rebound.

Milwaukee came into this month with a 5 1/2-game lead in the wild card, but since has lost 11 of 14 — including a four-game sweep completed by the Phillies over the weekend.

‘‘(Yost) didn’t have all the answers for what is going on the last two weeks and I’m not sure I have all the answers,’’ general manager Doug Melvin said during a news conference at a hotel in Chicago. ‘‘I’m not sure this is the right one, either.’’

Melvin met with principal owner principal owner Mark Attanasio Monday morning and the decision to fire Yost was made. Melvin acknowledged it was an unprecedented move but one that ‘‘shows we’re serious about winning.’’

‘‘We just felt a managerial change at least gives us a chance to see if we can turn it around,’’ he added.

The Brewers were idle Monday, and was scheduled to begin a three-game series with the Central-leading Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.

Yost did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone by The Associated Press.

Members of NL Central rivals Chicago and Houston, who played another neutral-site game in Milwaukee on Monday after Hurricane Ike made it too difficult to play their scheduled series in Houston over the weekend, expressed surprise at the move.

‘‘That was a shocker,’’ Astros owner Drayton McLane said. ‘‘Has a team ever done that at this point of the season this close to the playoffs?’’

During the rejiggered 1981 season, the Montreal Expos fired future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams in early September. The Expos went 16-11 under Jim Fanning to win the second-half title and make the playoffs.

In 1983, Philadelphia fired Pat Corrales in early July when it was in first place with a 43-42 record. Under Paul Owens, the Phillies reached the World Series.

In 1982, the Brewers fired manager Buck Rodgers after a 23-24 start. Popular Harvey Kuenn took over and his ‘‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’’ went to the World Series.

‘‘It was a big surprise to me,’’ said Astros infielder Mark Loretta, formerly of the Brewers. ‘‘It makes you wonder who really made that decision.’’

Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Yost was a ‘‘good man.’’

‘‘I don’t know the situation here with the Brewers, but I’ve got a lot of respect for Ned and it’s not easy when you get fired,’’ Piniella said. ‘‘But I hope everything goes well for him. He’s a good baseball man and he’ll be back.’’

Bench coach Ted Simmons, once considered a potential successor should Yost be fired, has been reassigned to an ‘‘advisory role,’’ making his long-term status with the team unclear.

Sveum immediately hired Brewers’ Hall of Famer Robin Yount, his former teammate, to be his bench coach and said Garth Iorg will coach third base.

‘‘Something obviously went wrong the last two weeks. We’re just trying to send a shock wave through this team and get them going for 12 days and through the playoffs,’’ Sveum said, adding he’s not sure how the players will react. He will address them before Tuesday night’s game.

By shaking up its on-field leadership, Milwaukee is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s collapse. In 2007, the Brewers held an 8 1/2-game division lead in late June but slid to 83-79 and missed the playoffs.

Attanasio said last year’s slide was not a big factor in letting Yost go this season.

‘‘Nothing at all we do is rash. It’s all reasoned and thoughtful,’’ Attanasio said.

The Brewers came into 2008 with even higher hopes for the playoffs, and received a major boost when they made a trade with Cleveland for ace CC Sabathia on July 7. That acquisition certainly has worked out, as the reigning AL Cy Young winner is 9-0 in 13 starts with six complete games and a 1.59 ERA.

But little else — not the other starters, the shaky bullpen or a home run-happy offense that has gone colder than a Wisconsin winter — is working for Milwaukee these days.

Now Yost has paid the price.

Yost became a lightning rod for fan criticism in Milwaukee in recent years as he stubbornly stuck by players mired in slumps and refused to criticize them in public — even when they get in shoving matches in the dugout during games.

But Attanasio also said that while the Brewers appreciate the support of their loyal fans, the decision to fire Yost was not based on their unrest.

And the Brewers haven’t looked like contenders in some of their biggest series this season, including a three-game sweep by Boston in May, a four-game sweep by Chicago at home in July and the just-completed four-game sweep by Philadelphia.

Yost was in his sixth season as the Brewers’ manager. When Milwaukee hired him from Atlanta after the 2002 season, the team was in the midst of four straight seasons with 94 losses or more.

Under Yost, the young Brewers improved to records of 81-81, 75-87 and 83-79 in the past three seasons — a significant improvement for a franchise that hadn’t had a winning record since 1992. But Yost seemingly couldn’t get the Brewers to take the next step.

Yost spent 12 years on the Braves’ coaching staff with Bobby Cox, and Atlanta won division titles every year Yost was there except the strike-shortened 1994 season.