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Baseball briefs

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000

D'Backs let stern Showalter go

PHOENIX -- Buck Showalter was fired Monday as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks after a disappointing season that saw the team go from division champion to third place.

Showalter, the only manager in the team's history, was hired in November 1995, 21/2 years before the Diamondbacks started play and one month after he led the Yankees to their first playoff berth in 14 years.

But his unsmiling personality proved his undoing when owner Jerry Colangelo decided the roster of mostly veteran players needed a lighter touch.

* * *

"I told him a long time ago, "Buck, relax. You don't have anything to prove,' " said Colangelo, who maintained that hiring a known disciplinarian was the right move at the time.

"Five years is an eternity in pro sports for a coach, for a general manager, for a manager," Colangelo said. "Buck had five years with us, and I owe him a great debt of gratitude."

Showalter, 44, did not attend the news conference in a suite at Bank One Ballpark, and Colangelo said he was in transit to Bristol, Conn., to do "some ESPN work."

He was the third manager fired Monday. Cincinnati's Jack McKeon and Pittsburgh's Gene Lamont lost their jobs earlier.

With an $80.8-million payroll -- baseball's sixth-highest -- expectations were high in Arizona. On May 10, the Diamondbacks were 26-10 and led the NL West by 61/2 games, but they slumped after that. Not even the acquisition of Curt Schilling from Philadelphia in late July provided a spark.

Showalter led Arizona to a 250-236 record in three years, improving his record as a major-league manager to 552-505 in seven seasons.

Colangelo said work would begin quickly on finding Showalter's replacement.

"We want a solid baseball guy. Someone who has preferably spent a lot of time in major-league baseball," Colangelo said. "It's not a given, but being an ex-player may fit with the group we have."

Bob Brenly, a former major-league catcher and currently a Diamondbacks television announcer, has been rumored as a possible successor to Showalter. Colangelo said Brenly fit the description, but added that there were many other possibilities.

REDS CUT McKEON: One year after winning the NL Manager of the Year, McKeon, 69, was fired after failing to lead the Reds to the post-season with Ken Griffey.

"Expectations were high," McKeon said. "If there's got to be a fall guy, I'll be glad to take the responsibility."

McKeon, who was 291-259 with the Reds, said he wants to stay in baseball, not necessarily as a manager.

"I'm not going to seek another managing job," McKeon said, holding a cigar in his right hand. "If somebody calls, fine. I don't have to be managing. I'm going to stay in baseball some way."

LAMONT LET GO: The Pirates fired Lamont after the team finished 69-93 and fifth in the NL Central, 26 games behind the Cardinals. Lamont said a second-place finish in 1997 created expectations that proved impossible to meet.

"It was fantastic the way things happened (in '97), but it was kind of a mirage, really," Lamont said.

The firing -- technically a decision not to renew Lamont's four-year contract -- had been rumored since June, despite the manager's popularity with some players. Lamont was 553-562 in eight seasons with the White Sox and Pirates.

ROOKIE OPPORTUNITY: The Cardinals are showing plenty of confidence in rookie pitcher Rick Ankiel, giving him the start in the opening game of their NL playoff series against the Braves today.

Ankiel, a 21-year-old left-hander, will oppose four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux. He was selected over the Cardinals' 20-game winner, Darryl Kile, who will start Game 2 of the best-of-five series Thursday.

Ankiel was 11-7 with a 3.50 earned-run average in 30 starts this season, striking out 194 batters in 175 innings. He was 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA in five starts in September, and has allowed over two earned runs just once in his past 10 outings.

"When you pitch like he has the last 10-12 starts out there, he gives us a chance to win the game," manager Tony La Russa said, noting Ankiel hasn't lost since Aug. 1. "We thought he'd be a reliever. Now he's a starter."

BIG DRAW: The major leagues, helped by three new ballparks, drew a record 72,748,970 fans and the average attendance topped 30,000 for the first time since the 1994-95 strike.

After drawing an average of 31,612 in 1994 before the start of the 232-day strike, attendance dropped 20.1 percent in 1995 to 25,260.

The average rose to 26,889 in 1996, 28,288 in 1997 and 29,285 in 1998, the year Arizona and Tampa Bay started play. The average dropped 0.9 percent in 1999 to 29,019, then rose 3.7 percent this year to 30,099.

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