By ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer
October 5, 2007
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jim Tracy was fired as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday after two seasons filled with long losing streaks and little discernible progress.
The team scheduled an afternoon news conference to announce the dismissal.
Tracy's patience and back-patting weren't enough to turn around the Pirates. He produced records of 67-95 in 2006 and 68-94 this season, the shortest run of any non-interim Pirates manager since Bill Virdon was fired late into his second season in 1973.
Tracy's departure means the Pirates will have new front office and on-field leadership in 2008, headed by new team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and a still-to-be-hired manager. Coonelly and Huntington took over last month, and spent the five days since the season ended weighing a decision on Tracy.
Tracy's departure has appeared imminent since former general manager Dave Littlefield, who chose Tracy two years ago, was fired Sept. 7. Tracy was due to make $1 million in the final year of his contract.
The firing means Tracy may not manage next season after spending the previous seven seasons running the Dodgers (2001-05, 427-383 record) and Pirates (2006-07, 135-189). His 280 losses over the last three seasons were the most in the majors.
The losses in Pittsburgh piled up in a hurry, too -- in only Tracy's second month in May 2006, the Pirates lost a modern era club-record 13 in a row that in effect doomed their season before Memorial Day. They also lost eight in a row in late September 2006.
This season, they dropped 14 of 16 after the All-Stark break and nine more in a row during a stretch of 13 losses in 15 games to end the season. That poor finish came as the Pirates were weighing whether to bring Tracy back for the final season of his contract.
Tracy, a 51-year-old former outfielder for the Cubs, becomes the fourth manager to be fired or to leave the Pirates during their ongoing 15-year run of losing seasons, one short of the 1933-48 Phillies' major league record.
Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon and Tracy were let go and Jim Leyland was allowed out of his contract following the 1996 season to manage the Marlins.
Tracy's hiring by Littlefield in October 2005 generated minimal enthusiasm among Pirates fans after he and the Dodgers mutually parted ways following a 71-91 season in Los Angeles. Many fans were excited about the possible return of Leyland, who still lived in Pittsburgh and wanted to manage again following a six-year layoff.
By the time the Pirates decided to interview Leyland, he was already on his way to Detroit to take the Tigers' job. Littlefield then chose the man he had apparently targeted from the start in Tracy.
Among Tracy's promises were to upgrade the level of coaching and to turn around a youthful but underperforming pitching staff.
While several pitchers emerged during Tracy's two seasons, including left-hander Tom Gorzelanny (14-10, 3.88 ERA this season), right-hander Ian Snell (9-12, 3.76 ERA) and closer Matt Capps (18 saves), others regressed -- notably, left-hander Zach Duke.
Duke was a dominating 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA as a rookie in 2005. But he never approached those numbers after pitching coach Jim Colborn refined his delivery in spring training 2006, and Duke went 13-23 with a remarkable 416 hits allowed in 322 2-3 innings the last two seasons.
The Pirates' bullpen also was a season-long disappointment this year. Right-hander Salomon Torres, allowed to pitch in a club record-tying 94 games in '06, had arm problems and never resembled the pitcher he was the previous season.
Offensively, Tracy's staff could find no solution to first baseman Adam LaRoche's miserable slump to begin the season or Jason Bay's dramatic falloff. Bay went from being one of the NL's most productive left fielders in 2006 (35 homers, 109 RBIs) to one of its least productive this season (.247, 21 homers, 84 RBIs).
Despite the Pirates' poor records under Tracy, Bay said Sunday he thought the manager should return because two seasons weren't enough to prove his ability with a rebuilding club.