|Friday, May 4
Narron named interim manager for Rangers
ARLINGTON, Texas Johnny Oates avoided the seemingly inevitable. He resigned as manager of the Texas Rangers before team executives faced the decision to fire him.
With the Rangers off to their worst start since 1985 despite signing Alex Rodriguez to the richest contract in sports history, owner Tom Hicks and general manager Doug Melvin were already considering a change. Oates made it easy for them.
"I knew in my gut where we are," Hicks said Friday after Oates' resignation. "Everybody in this room has figured out the same thing. Johnny figured it out too.
"He recognized it's time to make a change," he said.
Oates said he had done everything he could to turn things around. But the Rangers were 11-17 and 11 games behind Seattle in the AL West going into Friday night's game against the Chicago White Sox.
"This is not something I wanted to do, but I wrestled with the decision," said Oates, who was in his seventh season. "It will be a lot easier to get a new voice in the clubhouse than new players."
Oates was replaced for the remainder of the season by third-base coach Jerry Narron.
The Rangers got several new players during the offseason, including Rodriguez for $252 million over 10 years, and free agents Andres Galarraga and Ken Caminiti. That hasn't been enough to make them a winning team.
"It's not Johnny's fault. It's been totally our fault as players," Rodriguez said. "I think it's a good wakeup call for everybody in here, starting with myself, to get ourselves in gear and start playing to our potential."
Rodriguez was hitting .308 and is among the AL leaders with nine homers and 24 RBI in 28 games. But the All-Star shortstop had seven errors, just three fewer than he had in 148 games in Seattle last season.
"I'm stunned. I really wasn't expecting this," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "I know Johnny was under a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I could tell it in his body language and his face, but I never saw it coming."
While the Rangers were near the lead in every offensive category, their pitching staff as many predicted was the worst in the majors with a 6.72 ERA.
"Obviously, we're a fair share of that. There are no secrets how we've pitched," said Rick Helling, a 16-game winner last year who is 1-5 with an 8.01 ERA. "We haven't pitched good, but I know in this clubhouse we are a team. It's not pitching against offense. We are winning and losing as a team."
In a meeting with Melvin after Thursday's 9-4 loss to Detroit, the Rangers' fifth straight defeat, Oates shared his feelings. The longtime friends made a mutual decision that it was time for a change.
"When he made the decision, he was relieved," Melvin said. "All of us had looked for answers, all of us had talked to players trying to figure it out. There are no easy answers."
That meeting came a day before they were to meet with Hicks for their monthly evaluation of the team. Hicks attended Thursday's game instead of going to St. Louis to watch the NHL's Dallas Stars, which he also owns, play what turned out to be their final playoff game this year.
Hicks, who had warned that Oates' job could be in jeopardy if the team didn't play better, said he had struggled over what to say during a meeting that was never necessary.
"I'm as disappointed as anybody. This will be hopefully the start to getting our intangibles to work," Hicks said.
The pressing question Hicks had planned to ask Oates was if he had "lost" the team that he led to its only three postseason appearances.
Last week in Cleveland, All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez apparently became upset at Oates for questioning the severity of an injury. Rodriguez has since gone on the 15-day disabled list for a bruised left heel.
Oates said that before a game April 24, the first of his final road trip, he said a prayer asking to know by May 23 whether he should keep his job. He then made his decision Thursday.
"I told Johnny `I would like to talk you out of it,' but inside in my heart I felt maybe it was the right time," Melvin said.
Melvin said he and Narron will meet over the next few days to evaluate coaching staff and roster "as we look for ways to turn this season around."
"It's disappointed that we've allowed things to get this far," said outfielder Rusty Greer, in his eighth season with the Rangers. "Anytime a manager resigns or his fired, it is kind of a reflection of the players. Each player needs to reflect on what could have been done different to avoid this point."
The Rangers made the playoffs in 1996, '98 and '99. They faced the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees each time, winning one game the first year and getting swept the next two times.
Oates tied for the 1996 AL Manager of the Year, along with New York's Joe Torre, after leading the Rangers to their first division title. Texas won a team record 95 games in 1999.
"We made some steps, we made some strides," said Oates, who was 506-476 in Texas. "The last couple of years have not been what we envisioned.
"I don't think it's a lack of confidence. It's a lack of production."
Oates warned Narron before Thursday's game to start preparing for a new job. Narron's only managerial experience was in 1995 when he was 2-3 while Oates took a leave of absences.
Like Oates, Narron is a former major league catcher. He was a minor league manager in the Orioles' system when Oates added him to his Baltimore staff in 1993.
Narron described his style as one cobbled from his time with Oates and his playing days under Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, John McNamara and Dick Williams.
"We have not played anywhere near where we're capable of playing," Narron said. "It's my job to get guys to achieve and overachieve. I don't know what we're going to change."
Melvin said that when Narron was managing in the minors, he was noticed by longtime major league executive and former manager Birdie Tebbetts.
"He came back one time and said, `That kid you have down there managing Rochester, he reminds me of Walter Alston he's quiet, but don't take that quietness for someone who doesn't want to win,"' Melvin said. "I've always kept that in my mind."
The Rangers are the second team to change managers during the first five weeks of the season. Tampa Bay fired Larry Rothschild.