Last-place Phillies fire Leyva Manager dismissed after 13 games

April 24, 1991|By Dick Polman | Dick Polman,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- On Monday night, he walked his dog. Yesterday morning, he slept late -- until 9, when the phone woke him.

"Can you come in?" the boss asked.

"Sure," the underling said.

He took a shower and drove to his place of employment. The boss said, "This is the toughest thing I've had to do in a long time."

Then he did it.

True to the traditions of baseball, the manager of a losing team had been told to hit the road. The Philadelphia Phillies' Nick Leyva, at 37 the youngest manager in the National League, had become the first casualty of the 1991 season, bidding adieu yesterday after coming off the road with a 4-9 record that had his team last in the Eastern Division.

Amid all the rhetorical niceties, the reason for his demise was clear: General manager Lee Thomas had lost confidence in Leyva's ability to motivate the team and no longer believed that Leyva could lead the club to its first competitive season in five years.

Leyva said yesterday that he felt it was ridiculous to fire a manager after 13 games. But, he said: "We've played bad baseball. I don't know who's to blame. I'm taking the blame."

His replacement, special-assignment scout Jim Fregosi, a former manager of the California Angels and Chicago White Sox, immediately took up residence at Veterans Stadium -- the fourth Phillies manager since 1987. Leyva's maroon nameplate above the office door was gone. Leyva's family pictures were gonefrom the cinder-block walls, and the bookshelves were stripped bare. Leyva also had taken with him a managerial won-lost record of 148-189.

Phillies president Bill Giles, who publicly had declared that the team would post a winning record this year, amended his prediction yesterday: "I expect this club to win very soon. And until we make the right changes and the right corrections and provide a winning team, we'll make changes. Hopefully, this is the last major decision in a while."

Thomas and Fregosi are close friends, and there had been strong speculation that Fregosi, hired by Thomas last year to work with minor-league pitchers, was the heir apparent to Leyva. Giles acknowledged the friendship and said it would work for the team.

"Lee and Jim are close, and I think you have a comfort level," Gilessaid. "You have mutual respect and mutual communication. And I didn't think the communication between Nick and Lee was all that great this spring. I thought Nick changed some over the last three or four months."

Giles was asked how Leyva had changed.

"I don't want to get into that," Giles replied. "He's history. He's fired."

The firing was hardly unexpected. Rifts between Leyva and Thomas developed in Florida, during spring training, centering on Leyva's penchant for knocking young players in the media, often in sarcastic terms. Meanwhile, the young pitching staff was being shelled, and the hitters were grousing about it. Then things got worse: The team came north and proceeded to lose games in ways not seen since the New York Mets played at the Polo Grounds.

Quickest to go

I=

The fastest managerial firings in baseball history: Cal Ripken, Orioles, 1988. . . . 6

2. Jimmie Wilson, Cubs, 1944 . . . 10

3. Preston Gomez, Padres, '72 . . .11

Nick Leyva, Phillies, 1991. . ..13

5. Bob Lemon, Yankees, 1982 . . . .14

6. Yogi Berra, Yankees, 1985 . . . 16

5/8

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