Then, on Sept. 7 of this year, his 36th birthday, Sweet was fired—because of personality differences, he said, with Jeff Malinoff the Mariners' former director of player development. "I expected to finish my career with Seattle," Sweet said. "It was a blow, and I was hurt, but for some reason I wasn't angry. Normally I'm not the kind of person who gets hit and takes it very easily, and basically that was a knockout blow, but I wasn't mad. Molly was a lot madder than I was."
It took Sweet a week to get going again, but he began sending out resumes. "At first I had a lot of people call me and say, 'You'll be back in baseball,' but there were no bona fide offers," he says. He talked to the Red Sox and the A's, but they had no openings for a manager. He talked to the Angels three times, but the Angels wanted an advance scout. As more weeks passed and his hopes for a managing job dimmed, Sweet began preparing to start his own business outside the game. His plan was to hold clinics, give private lessons to promising high school players and buy a few batting cages and a small sporting goods store.
Meanwhile, Rick and Molly settled down to a winter together. Even before being fired, Rick had promised there would be no winter ball in Puerto Rico this year. They needed the extra money as much as ever, but their house also needed work. The previous spring, the day before Rick left for spring training, he had moved the family from Seattle to Vancouver, Wash., across the river from Portland, Molly's hometown. Vancouver's proximity to both their families and to the Portland airport made it a good base. However, the house was 30 years old, and there were things, such as painting, pulling up carpets and installing lighting, that Molly couldn't do by herself, self-sufficient though she is. (The first winter of their marriage, 1975-76, Molly and Rick had a 130-house paper route. They would rise at 3 a.m. to deliver the papers; then Molly would go on to a 9-to-5 office job.)
On the morning of Nov. 10, the phone rang while Rick was still in bed. It was Fred Nelson, the director of minor league operations for the Houston Astros. Nelson had a managing job to fill with the Class A Osceola Astros in the Florida State League. (The ballpark is in Kissimmee, near Orlando, but the team is named after the county, because calling a team the Kissimmee Astros is asking for trouble.) Nelson was not offering the job yet. First, he had a lot of questions, which ranged the baseball and personal spectra. The questions took two hours that morning and several more phone calls in the days that followed, but finally Sweet's contract was in the mail.
Outwardly, Sweet was a normal suburban householder after his hiring was announced last week. He went Christmas shopping with Molly and puttered about in the house and yard, but his brain was working three months ahead.
"I want to make sure I know what the Houston way of playing baseball is, the cutoffs and relays, bunt plays, how they turn the double play, how they like their outfielders to back up. I want to learn their policies—how high the socks, how low the pants, how big the mustache. The way the Houston Astros do it will be the way Rick Sweet does it. It's that simple. Also, I have no white shoes. I have 20 pairs of blue shoes. They're worthless now, but I'll pack them away, because who knows?—in two years I might need them."
To be perfectly truthful, Rick Sweet, the Osceola Astro, was as excited as a rookie reporting to the big leagues. "There's no better feeling than a ball game," he said. "Getting out there and competing against that other guy. Before, it was physical. Now it's 95 percent mental. Sometimes you look over there in the other dugout, and you know you've got the manager right where you want him. I love it."
TEMPLE: Fired football coach Bruce Arians.
The cornerstone of Temple University's philosophy was put in place in 1884 by the institution's founder, Dr. Russell H. Conwell: "Great deeds with little means." Bruce Arians, the football coach at the Philadelphia school for the past six years, confessed last week, "It took me a while to learn to live with that. When I started here, was asking for buildings. Pretty soon I was only asking for pants and jerseys." He didn't get buildings, but he got the pants and jerseys. He also got fired.
The announcement by Temple said that Arians "has relinquished his duties in a mutual agreement with school officials." In fact, Arians relinquished his duties during a 45-minute meeting in which the university's executive vice-president, H. Patrick Swygert, told him he was no longer employed. The only mutual agreement was that the school would pay Arians for the remaining year of his three-year contract—slightly more than $100,000—and in return he would not talk ugly about his dismissal. Arians later met with president Peter J. Liacouras—once such a fan of Arians and his program that he broke a finger catching a kickoff at a practice—and they told each other what a great guy the other one was. A very civil divorce.