Pittsburgh Pirates fire Dave Littlefield By ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer
12 minutes ago
PITTSBURGH - General manager Dave Littlefield was fired Friday by the Pittsburgh Pirates after six-plus seasons in which the team showed little progress on the field or in its farm system.
Director of player development Brian Graham will serve as the interim general manager until Littlefield's replacement is found.
The firing came with three weeks left in the season and the Pirates in their customary spot in last place in the NL Central, with a 61-79 record — three losses away from a 15th consecutive losing season, one off the major league record.
"After eight months of listening and analyzing this situation, it became clear that this decision was necessary to move our organization forward," Pirates board chairman Bob Nutting said. "While there are many bright spots for us to build from, I am not satisfied with the overall performance and progress that has been made."
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 and his successor was expected to evaluate Littlefield and Tracy.
"It's tough," Tracy said. "It's real tough. He's more than 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 in baseball.
Littlefield, a former executive with the Marlins and Expos, succeeded Cam Bonifay midway through a 100-loss season in 2001 and was expected to make major changes in a franchise that had made little headway 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 in a full season during his stay. The Pirates had a 442-581 record, 139 games below .500, during his tenure and were 67-95 each of the last two full seasons.
The 2006 season was marked by a 13-game losing streak and this season's team lost 14 of 16 immediately after the All-Star break.
Nutting emphasized the Pirates will not hire a president-general manager but will fill both jobs separately.
"The search process for our new club process has clarified for me that the president and general manager position are two distinct functions," he said.
Littlefield inherited first-year manager Lloyd McClendon and kept him until firing him in early September 2005. Littlefield then brought in Tracy, with whom he had worked in Montreal's system.
But while Littlefield emphasized upon his 2001 hiring how he would build from within, that go-with-the-kids philosophy repeatedly got sidetracked. 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.
In June, they passed on catcher Matt Weiters — considered the best hitting prospect in the draft — with the No. 4 pick because they felt they couldn't afford to sign a Scott Boras-represented prospect. Their alternative pick, losing-record pitcher Danny Moskos of Clemson, visibly angered fans.
Many of Littlefield's moves seemed dictated by money, either that the Pirates didn't have or declined to spend. The prime example was trading 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 trade that Littlefield privately told colleagues he despised making.
Littlefield got mileage out of bargain-priced players passed over by others — Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs, Kenny Lofton, Jeff Suppan — and made some excellent trades (Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, 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 $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 no apparent reason 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.