The Pirates responded to one of the worst seasons in franchise history today by firing manager John Russell and retaining general manager Neal Huntington.
Team president Frank Coonelly, in consultation with owner Bob Nutting, made the decision on Huntington. From there, Huntington and his baseball operations staff decided on Russell, and Huntington informed Russell early this morning at the team's spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla. The announcement was made at 11:30 a.m.
"It was a very difficult decision," Huntington said. "John Russell is an outstanding person, friend and baseball man, and we certainly appreciate all his dedication and effort. There's a valid argument that could be made that JR deserved a better fate. We put him in a very difficult situation with significant roster turnover over three years, many young players, and toward the end of the year, we did see positive signs."
The Pirates had a 57-105 record in the season that ended Sunday in Miami, the third-highest loss total in the franchise's 124 years. They went 17-22 in the final 39 games.
"This move is not about looking backward. It's not about finding fault," Huntington continued. "The true accountability and, arguably, the majority of the accountability lies with myself and/or the rest of the baseball operations. Not just in the manager's office. Our focus now is moving forward, and our challenge now becomes finding a manager capable of leading this team in the desired direction."
The contracts for Russell and Huntington, extended last winter, each runs through 2011. Russell will continue to be paid an amount believed to be in the range of $500,000, and he will not work in any other capacity.
Russell, 49, was hired Nov. 5, 2007, and finished with a record of 186-299, a .383 winning percentage that was the ninth-worst of any manager in Major League Baseball history over three years.
Russell did not respond to a request to be interviewed.
Huntington described Russell as being "extremely disappointed," adding, "John was looking forward to the challenges of year four."
All of Russell's coaches were told they were "free to pursue other opportunities," Huntington said, but he added that some will be considered for the staff of the new manager or other positions in the organization if they choose to apply. Huntington said the new manager will be involved in choosing his staff.
Hitting coach Don Long, third base coach Tony Beasley and bullpen coach Luis Dorante had been with Russell from the start. First base coach Carlos Garcia joined the staff for this season. Bench coach Jeff Banister and pitching coach Ray Searage were promoted from the minors on an interim basis in early August. Searage is seen as having the best chance of sticking with the Pirates next season.