PITTSBURGH -- In the end, the biggest disappointment to Dave
Littlefield was he left the Pittsburgh Pirates in the same place
they were when he arrived in mid-2001 -- last place.
Littlefield, like nearly all executives, was judged on won-lost
record, and the Pirates' 442-581 record and .432 winning percentage
in his six-plus seasons as general manager weren't nearly good
Littlefield was fired Friday after the franchise showed
negligible progress on the field and not nearly enough in its farm
system. Director of player development Brian Graham will serve as
the interim general manager until Littlefield's replacement is
found, after a team president is hired.
"It's going to be an interesting offseason around here,"
shortstop Jack Wilson said.
Littlefield's firing came with three weeks left in the season
and the Pirates in their customary last place slot in the NL
Central at 61-79. They were three losses from a 15th consecutive
losing season, one off the major league record.
"After spending the past eight months analyzing how this
organization runs, it is clear to me from a baseball standpoint
that this was an important move, the correct move and the right
thing for the organization," said board chairman Bob Nutting, who
became the controlling owner in January. "I'm not satisfied with
the overall progress and performance."
No decision on the status of Littlefield or second-year manager
Jim Tracy had been expected until after the season. Managing
general partner Kevin McClatchy, who has run the day-to-day
operations since 1996, is resigning when the season ends. His
successor, who will have the title of president, is expected to
evaluate Littlefield and Tracy.
Littlefield was under contract for 2008 and expected to return
until being called by Nutting on Friday morning.
"In these jobs, you don't take anything for granted,"
Littlefield told The Associated Press. "There's been a change in
the CEO and the ownership group and we have not won for an extended
period, so not much surprises you. That's ownership's
Tracy, also under contract for next year, was disappointed the
man who hired him in October 2005 was let go.
"It's tough," said Tracy, who has a 128-174 record with
Pittsburgh. "It's real tough. He's more than a friend to me. You
hate to see people as passionate as Dave and who work as hard as
they do at their craft lose their job. But decisions get made."
Tracy predicted Littlefield, the former top assistant to Tigers
chief Dave Dombrowski when the two worked for the Marlins, will
quickly find another job.
"I certainly want to stay in baseball but, where that takes me,
I'm not sure," Littlefield said.
Littlefield succeeded Cam Bonifay midway through a 100-loss
season in 2001 and was expected to make major changes in a
franchise that had regressed badly since winning three division
titles in the early 1990s.
But the 47-year-old Littlefield's efforts to rebuild the
low-budget Pirates failed, and the team never had fewer than 87
losses or finished higher than fourth. The Pirates were 139 games
below .500 during his tenure and were 67-95 each of the last two
The 2006 season was marked by a 13-game losing streak and this
season's team lost 14 of 16 after the All-Star break.
The Pirates almost always had one of the majors' four lowest
payrolls during Littlefield's stay, but he would not use that -- or
the lack of money put into Latin America or Asian player
procurement -- as an excuse for losing.
"Commissioner (Bud) Selig has identified it as an issue in
major league baseball, the discrepancy in resources, but the fact
is I had a good job, we did some good things but we just weren't
able to achieve what wanted ... with the urgency that is needed,"
Nutting emphasized the Pirates would not hire a
president-general manager and will fill both jobs separately.
While Littlefield stressed in 2001 he would build from within,
that go-with-the-kids philosophy repeatedly got sidetracked by poor
choices or injuries. The Pirates frequently drafted pitchers in the
first round only to have them develop arm problems -- Bryan
Bullington, Brad Lincoln, John Van Benschoten -- or passed up better
prospects for money reasons, such as catcher Matt Weiters in this
Many of Littlefield's moves seemed dictated by money, either
that the Pirates didn't have or declined to spend. He traded
run-producing third baseman Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs in 2003 so
they wouldn't have to pay him the rest of his contract, a deal
Littlefield told colleagues he despised making.
"Kevin has explained the reason the trade was done,"
Littlefield said. "I work for ownership, and I do what I have to
do to accomplish the task. Those are things you have to live with,
are part of the job."
Littlefield got mileage out of bargain-priced players -- Reggie
Sanders, Matt Stairs, Kenny Lofton, Jeff Suppan -- and made some
excellent trades for Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche.
But there were some curious player decisions, too, such as the
signings of retreads Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz a year ago for a
combined $10 million.
Padres All-Star pitcher Chris Young was given $1 million-plus by
the Pirates to pass up the rest of his college basketball career,
then was dealt away in late 2002 for reliever Matt Herges. Herges
was promptly cut during spring training.
Littlefield's failure to protect some top prospects and keep
marginal ones led the Pirates to lose five of the top six picks in
the 2005 winter-meeting draft, resulting in audible laughter in the
New Orleans hotel meeting room.