Pirates fire manager Tracy, allow coaches to look elsewhere

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The Pirates, hoping to start fresh in 2008, today fired manager Jim Tracy with a year left on his contract, as well as director of baseball operations Jon Mercurio, director of player development Brian Graham and scouting director Ed Creech.

Also, the rest of Tracy's staff -- pitching coach Jim Colborn, hitting coach Jeff Manto, first base coach John Shelby, third base coach Jeff Cox, bench coach Jim Lett and bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar -- were informed by general manager Neal Huntington they are free to seek other positions, so long as the other teams ask the Pirates' permission. All are under contract until the end of this month.

The only employee assured of staying in Huntington's new regime was Doug Strange, who yesterday was demoted from assistant general manager to special assistant.

The franchise has had 15 consecutive losing seasons, and another would tie the 1933-48 Philadelphia Phillies for most in professional sports history.

"We have many challenges ahead, but we are taking the first step in the process," Huntington said at a PNC Park news conference this afternoon. "We need to change the culture of this organization, and this is a step in that direction. There are many good people in place. We're going to add to that group of people."

Tracy, 51, went 135-189, including 68-94 in the season that ended Sunday, since former general manager Dave Littlefield hired him Oct. 11, 2005. Littlefield was fired earlier in the month, and the decision regarding the manager was left up to his replacement, Huntington. Team president Frank Coonelly also was heavily involved in the process.

Tracy, who still will receive the $1 million he is owed next year, was informed of the decision at PNC Park this morning.

"Since my appointment as general manager, I have worked exhaustively to learn what is good about the organization and what is not so good," Huntington said. "After assessing that information, it became very clear to me that we needed some change. If we are going to successfully implement our philosophies, our visions, our systems, we needed to change the leadership and direction of our baseball operations. ...

"I fully support Neal's decisions and share in his opinion that these changes were necessary to provide a new voice and a new direction for the baseball operations department," Coonelly said. "We are now fully engaged in putting together a new leadership team that will implement our vision for the club's future. I am confident that we will attract outstanding baseball professionals to these open positions who will institute the systems, principles and philosophies necessary for us to acquire, develop, retain and teach our young players. Although the challenges that we face to restore the pride of the Pirates are real, I firmly believe that we are well on our way to changing the culture of the organization."

The firing of Graham, 47, came as perhaps the most significant surprise, a month after he was named interim general manager upon Dave Littlefield's firing. At the time, owner Bob Nutting called Graham "a tremendous asset." He oversaw the minor-league system for six years.

Mercurio, 42, just completed his 20th season with the Pirates, his 12th in baseball operations.

Creech, 55, joined the Pirates as scouting director in November 2001 and oversaw six drafts that most in the industry viewed as poor.

Tracy's tenure included the 14th and 15th consecutive losing seasons for the Pirates, matching the second-longest droughts in professional sports history. The longest is 16, set by the 1933-48 Philadelphia Phillies.

Before coming to Pittsburgh, Tracy was the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers for five years, with a 427-383 record and one first-place finish in 2004.

The next manager will be the Pirates' 38th overall and the fifth in the 11 years since Jim Leyland left in 1996.


More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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