Tony Perez expected to get fired some day, but not like this.
The Cincinnati Reds' manager was asleep, with no inkling of trouble ahead, when General Manager Jim Bowden called Monday morning and fired him over the phone.
After only 44 games, Bowden had decided to replace the popular Perez with former New York Met manager Davey Johnson, who hasn't managed or coached in the majors in three years.
Bowden, running the team while controlling partner Marge Schott serves a one-year suspension, decided a major change was needed to make the team with the highest payroll in the National League--$42.8 million--start living up to its expectations. Perez is one of Schott's favorites, but her suspension bars her from involvement in the club's operations.
Johnson, one of seven candidates who interviewed for the managing job last October, had been kept on the payroll as a consultant.
The fifth-quickest firing of a rookie manager in major league history stunned Perez, who fought back tears while talking to reporters at his apartment building.
"I don't think it's fair," Perez said. "Was I cheated? I don't know. But I don't think it's fair. I think I did a good job."
The Reds had returned a few hours earlier from a 1-6 West Coast trip that left them 20-24, 9 1/2 games behind San Francisco, and sealed Perez's fate.
Why change managers so quickly? Bowden didn't have a direct explanation.
"It's something we've been studying for a period of time, trying to diagnose why the team is playing so poorly," he told a news conference. "We have a lot of talented people on this team, a lot of proven veterans who are not getting the job done."
Bowden also fired pitching coach Larry Rothschild and third base coach Dave Bristol. First base coach Ron Oester, a friend of Perez, resigned.
Former Red player Ray Knight and Bobby Valentine, former manager of the Texas Rangers, were named as coaching replacements, and Jose Cardenal went outfield coach to first base coach.
Perez knew he was walking the plank from the day he was named manager. The Reds gave him only a one-year contract and said they would evaluate him after the season.
Johnson's contract runs through the 1994 season.
Schott issued a brief statement saying she wasn't consulted on the firing.
"Tony and Pituka Perez have been an important part of my life and the lives of Reds fans for a very long time," Schott said. "We are all disappointed that the players have not lived up to expectations this year. It is a shame that the manager has to pay for it."