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Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - Page updated at 07:33 A.M.

Mariners
Poor season dooms Melvin

By Bob Finnigan
Seattle Times staff reporter

KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Mariners GM Bill Bavasi declined to offer specific reasons for Bob Melvin's departure yesterday at a news conference.
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Mariners monthly: September 2004

Asked last Friday if he had been given any news of his fate or his future with the Mariners, Bob Melvin said he had not.

"But look around the office," he said with a grim smile. "I'm ready."

The manager's office was almost bare, stripped of what few personal items he had put on shelves or bureaus or hung on walls in his two years.

Thus, when general manager Bill Bavasi stopped by that same space yesterday at 8:55 a.m. and in an emotional 20-minute conversation told Melvin he would not be back for 2005, Melvin was prepared.

But not, as Bavasi said later, as prepared as Melvin might have thought he was.

"When we were about done, Bob said he thought he had been ready to hear this, but he wasn't," Bavasi said. "I thought I was ready for it, and I wasn't. It was a tough day."

It was a tough day tacked on to a season of many tough days for an underachieving team that started out as a preseason pick to contend but spent most of the year in the cellar.

The club never recovered from a slow start, then traded or dumped front-liners like Freddy Garcia, John Olerud and Rich Aurilia, and played most of the second half with players up from the farm system.

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While there was more energy in the waning days of the season, with the team going 11-11 in a final stretch against playoff-contending teams to avoid finishing with 100 losses, it did not save Melvin or the five coaches who were let go with him: Rene Lachemann (bench), Dave Myers (third base), Mike Aldrete (first base), Orlando Gomez (bullpen) and Paul Molitor (batting).

Pitching coach Bryan Price was retained because his contact runs through next season. While Bavasi said he wanted Price to return in his old position, Price asked to wait and see what the next manager decided.

"I think it's only right to allow a new manager the right to name his own staff," said Price, who flew home to Arizona with Melvin yesterday. "And if he is comfortable with me, that's great. I don't want to leave."

However, he does not want to see Melvin leave, either.

"I have to say I'm 100 percent a Bob Melvin guy. I believe he's the best man for the job," said Price, who has spent 15 years in the Seattle organization, five as Mariners pitching coach. "Anyone at field level will tell you that he did the best job with what he had to work with. We had one of the least-athletic teams in the league."

Price made clear he was talking of the overall club.

Paul Molitor lasted only one season as batting coach.
"This is just my opinion, but if you want to point fingers, we all share accountability — coaches, players, front office. I just hate to see Bob pay the price for us, when the pieces were missing to allow us to be successful.

"I've heard it said we underachieved. We had nine rookie pitchers. Who's to say we didn't overachieve?"

Bavasi winced when asked if dismissing Melvin fulfilled the old line, "It's easier to fire the manager than fire the players."

He called it a cliché, but while Seattle did move some players, the cliché proved true. With a team this disappointing, someone was going to pay.

"I never would have believed in spring training we'd be this bad with the guys we had," second baseman Bret Boone said in the last weeks. "With the exception of only a few guys, we stunk — and I'm including myself in that — in every phase of the game."

While every phase flopped, Melvin singled out the inability of the offense to produce key hits in the early months. In the final tally, the players who constituted the original heart of the lineup, the 3-7 slots, had almost 200 fewer runs batted in this year than in 2003.

"I believe in the theory that it's never the manager's fault. I'm going to miss Bob a lot," catcher Dan Wilson said.

In fact, Bavasi said he made a phone call later yesterday morning to tell an unnamed club that Melvin might make a good manager for it.

That club is almost certainly Arizona, for which Melvin had been bench coach under Bob Brenly, who was fired as manager earlier this season.

On Sunday, Raul Ibanez anticipated the worst for Melvin.

"It's a shame," said Ibanez, the Mariners' top free-agent target last winter. "They brought me back to do big things and I didn't. I blame myself. And I know all the other guys feel the same."

Bavasi said there was "no flash point," no single incident that brought him to the conclusion that he had to move his manager. He said that the idea of change "began to crystallize with about five or six games left in the season."

Dave Myers was an M's coach for four years.
Asked why he fired Melvin — although that word was never uttered in an hourlong news conference in which the GM alone answered questions — Bavasi declined to go into specifics.

"We did talk about something this morning which I choose to keep private," Bavasi said, "but I can tell you I never questioned his lineups or his strategy. Maybe once I asked him after a game why he used a pinch runner and he had a good answer.

"I have nothing negative to say about Bob, and I think the players respected him, too."

But something was wrong, whether it was the makeup of the club or its management.

The Mariners may have had a lack of leadership after the likes of Mark McLemore, Stan Javier and Mike Cameron left, with Edgar Martinez nearing retirement and having a poor year, along with Boone and Jamie Moyer.

Years back, manager Lou Piniella's charismatic persona would have filled in. But Melvin chose to let the players have the limelight and was perceived, since there was rumor of a rift between CEO Howard Lincoln and Piniella, to be in management's pocket.

According to several of his coaches, Melvin was no such thing.

"Bob hates that idea," one of the coaches said earlier this season. "You hear they only hired him because he was different than Lou. But while he isn't as out front, he's a good man and a good baseball man."

Melvin gave insight only once, near the start of this season when he said vehemently, "I'm not the anti-Lou. I speak up. I chew guys out. I've chewed the team out. (But) when there's something negative to say, I say it in private."

In the end, with the team playing better and knowing that a new cycle of players could or should be identified more as his team rather than Piniella's legacy, Melvin said clearly he wanted to stay on.

Publicly, he spoke at all times about next season as "we," as if he would be back.

Privately, he said: "Usually, you talk to the manager about personnel matters for the next year, and no one has said much to me. I'm afraid it's been decided. That's baseball, that's part of the game. It's a rough part, but you learn from it and you go on."

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or bfinnigan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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