PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Josh Byrnes on Thursday night in a shakeup at the top of a team cemented in last place in the NL West for the second year in a row.
Diamondbacks bench coach and ex-major league slugger Kirk Gibson will take over as interim manager for a ballclub that was 31-48, 15 1/2 games back of San Diego entering Thursday’s games.
Team president Derrick Hall called the dismissals "a first and major step in the re-evaluation of our team."
The 35-year-old Hinch was promoted May 7, 2009. Despite having no managerial experience at any level, he was moved from the front office to manager following the firing of Bob Melvin. Hinch has two years remaining on his contract after this season.
Hinch is the fourth manager to lose his job this season. Florida’s Fredi Gonzalez, Baltimore’s Dave Trembley and Kansas City’s Trey Hillman have also been fired.
Byrnes, once considered a rising star among young baseball executives, has a whopping 5 1/2 years left on a deal that runs through 2015.
Former major league pitcher Jerry DiPoto, vice president for player development, will take over the GM duties on an interim basis.
In a statement issued Thursday night, Arizona managing partner Ken Kendrick called the firings "a significant decision, but one that we find necessary in order to achieve a direction of winning consistently on the field again."
The team scheduled a Friday news conference to discuss the move.
Gibson’s name is as recognizable as Hinch’s was obscure, as much as anything for one of baseball’s most dramatic home runs.
He hit .268 with 255 home runs, 870 RBIs and 284 stolen bases in 17 seasons as a major league outfielder with Detroit, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
He was the Dodgers’ team leader and NL MVP in the 1988 regular season, but injuries to both legs kept him on the bench when the World Series against Oakland began.
In Game 1, barely able to walk, Gibson came to the plate as a pinch hitter in the ninth and hit Dennis Eckersly’s 0-2 pitch into the right field seats of Dodger Stadium to give Los Angeles a 5-4 victory. He limped around the bases, pumping his fist in triumph, as broadcaster Joe Buck Sr. uttered his famous "I don’t believe what I just saw!"
Gibson was the Tigers’ bench coach from 555-5555 and joined Melvin’s staff in the same capacity in 2007.
Byrnes was in his fifth season as general manager after being lured from the Boston Red Sox, where he was assistant to GM Theo Epstein. After the young Diamondbacks finished with the NL’s best record and made it to the NLCS in 2007, Arizona gave him an eight-year extension.
Hinch, who has a degree from Stanford, was vice president for player personnel when he was moved to the manager’s role, even though he had never even been a coach before. At the time, Byrnes touted Hinch’s "organizational advocacy."
The team stumbled on to a last-place finish in the NL West (70-92), but Hinch confidently said "I like this team" coming out of spring training this year. Quickly, though, the Diamondbacks faded. At one time, they lost 10 in a row, including a franchise-worst 0-9 road trip. When the club returned from that awful journey, Hinch acknowledged, "This group hasn’t responded that well to me."
Hinch had an 89-123 record in not quite 14 months as Arizona’s fifth manager.
DiPoto had a 27-24 record with 49 saves and a 4.05 ERA in 390 major league appearances in eight seasons with Cleveland, the New York Mets and Colorado. He worked for the Red Sox scouting department for two years before becoming Colorado’s player personnel director in 2005. He joined the Diamondbacks when Byrnes became general manager in 2006 and was in his second season and vice president/player personnel.
The Diamondbacks open a 10-game home stand Friday night with the first of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The team is on pace to shatter the major league record for strikeouts in the season and its bullpen statistically is one of the worst the game has known.
"We have a number of talented players, obviously see great room for improvement," Kendrick said. "This franchise has enjoyed tremendous success over the years and we want to get back to our winning ways. The loyal staff of this organization, as well as all of our fans, hopes for and deserves better results on the field."
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