Angels firing Rodgers a surprise Padres dumping Riggleman won't be

BASEBALL

May 22, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

The first firing of a major-league manager in 1994 took nearly everyone in baseball by surprise. The most likely second firing should shock no one.

Like Buck Rodgers, fired by the California Angels, San Diego Padres manager Jim Riggleman has little talent with which to work. Unlike Rodgers, Riggleman's team is not in a pennant race.

The Padres, a Double-A caliber team with a Tony Gwynn here and an Andy Benes there to break up the monotony, lost for the 12th consecutive time Friday night to set a Padres record and fuel speculation that Riggleman's job is on the line.

Tim Flannery, a Single-A manager in the Padres' system and one of the most popular players in franchise history, is the leading candidate to replace Riggleman when the inevitable occurs.

Padres general manager Randy Smith, whose job is secure only for as long as Tom Werner owns the team, is believed to favor Padres third base coach Bruce Bochy, but Werner, desperate to generate fan interest, prefers the appeal of Flannery.

Riggleman is not in denial about his precarious position.

"You can't help but be concerned," Riggleman told reporters. "It's your livelihood and your future. It's just the nature of the business. When you get the job you understand you are in the hot seat, and we're losing ballgames, so it wouldn't come as a surprise."

Werner figures to complete the sale of the Padres to a mystery buyer within two months, which has more than just Riggleman wondering about his job security.

"It's in the back of my mind," Smith said. "I've thought about a potential ownership change, and I know what that could mean."

The Padres averaged 16,341 tickets sold in their first 20 home dates. Understandably, no-shows have been high. After all, what would you rather do, comb the beaches of San Diego, or watch the worst team in baseball get pounded again?

Flannery, a sound baseball man, a lively quote and a smooth television presence, could help the turnstile to some extent.

In contrast, the Rodgers firing was not a popular one with Angels fans, who sat on their hands during and after a Marcel Lachemann highlight film played on the scoreboard to introduce the new manager.

Rodgers, an original Angel who nearly lost his life in a 1992 team bus accident, spoke honestly about the shortcomings of his players, a quality in a manager fans always appreciate and most players detest.

Many believe Rodgers' willingness to publicly criticize the performance of his players played at least a small part in his firing. Backward thinking.

Generally speaking, winning players have skin thick enough to withstand just criticism. It wasn't Rodgers' fault the Angels were 16-23 -- but only two games out of first in the frail American League West.

California GM Bill Bavasi took responsibility for the firing. Bavasi's predecessor, Whitey Herzog, voiced his disapproval.

"I can't believe it," Herzog said. "How can you fire a manager when he didn't have his No. 1 pitcher [Mark Langston], didn't have his No. 3 pitcher [Joe Magrane], and his No. 2 [Chuck Finley] and No. 4 pitchers [Phil Leftwich] are pitching terrible? It ain't too damn fair. Now, Marcel will do a good job. He's a very good baseball man, but I managed against Buck, and that's a pretty damn good manager. Believe me, firing Buck Rodgers is not the answer."

John Wathan was the Angels' interim manager during much of the 1992 season while Rodgers rehabilitated from injuries.

Wathan left the team for four games when there was a death in his family. Lachemann stood in for him and went 3-1.

Lachemann, who was the Florida Marlins' pitching coach for his brother Rene before the Rodgers firing, is one of three major-league managers who was a pitcher (joining Tom Lasorda and Dallas Green).

In L.A., stability reigns

Eleven men have managed the Angels since Lasorda moved into the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout in the final days of the 1976 season.

Many figured last season would be Lasorda's last with the Dodgers, but he was extended a year and has the Dodgers in first place in the National League West.

The Dodgers of a previous generation were famous for winning 2-1 games. These Dodgers lead the league in runs scored, a year after finishing 12th in the NL in that category.

All three of the Dodgers' starting outfielders -- left fielder Henry Rodriguez (.349), center fielder Brett Butler (.335), and right fielder Raul Mondesi (.331, 28 RBIs, nine outfield assists) -- are in the Top 10 in the NL in hitting.

Mondesi is a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. If he wins, he would follow Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, who followed Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros.

The Dodgers had four consecutive Rookie of the Year winners from 1979 to 1982: Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Steve Sax.

Veteran third baseman Tim Wallach, in the last year of his contract, is having a big comeback season. He ranks fifth in the NL with 35 RBIs and is batting .288. His batting averages from the previous three seasons: .222, .223, .225.

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