General managers have been increasingly generous with such opportunities recently. Time was, managers were fired because teams couldn't get rid of all their players; lately, team execs have been sparing high-priced skippers with guaranteed contracts and hitting players closer to home by axing coaches, with whom players have far more daily contact than they do with managers.
Four skippers—the Rockies' Don Baylor, the Tigers' Buddy Bell, the Blue Jays' Tim Johnson and the Dodgers' Bill Russell—have been fired since the start of the 1998 season. By contrast, 22 teams replaced at least one coach between the start of last year and Opening Day '99, including L.A., which then bounced new pitching coach Charlie Hough on May 26. "The unfortunate thing is, we haven't been pitching well and he has to take the fall for us," said Dodgers closer Jeff Shaw. "I'm sad to see him go."
In the Mets' case, the coaching staff may have also been a pawn in front-office politics. Because Valentine reportedly has the backing of co-owner Fred Wilpon, Phillips had to find another way to make it clear that he was unhappy with the Mets' performance. "The manager doesn't choose his staff in most organizations," said Phillips, who promoted three men from within to fill the vacant slots. "The manager takes what he is given and tries to make the most of it. That's what Bobby is doing." We'll see.
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