Buck Rodgers, his eyes watering, his voice choked with emotion, still had trouble believing Wednesday that he was standing behind a lecturn without a job.
It had been 24 hours since his firing as manager of the Angels, and still, he could not explain it.
So he came to one conclusion:
He was fired by Angel President Richard Brown, whom he accused of being a “cancer” in the organization. He’s convinced Bill Bavasi, Angel general manager, was only following orders.
“I don’t really think that Bill Bavasi had too much to do with my firing,” Rodgers said. “I appreciate him being the front-man, that’s commendable, but in my mind I don’t think he had anything to do with it.”
Instead, he says his confrontation with Brown during the Angels’ last home stand might have triggered his dismissal. Rodgers was summoned for a private meeting to discuss comments that Brown heard Rodgers had made about him.
“He said that I said that he didn’t know anything about baseball,” Rodgers said.
“Even if I believed that,” Rodgers said smiling, “I wouldn’t say that.”
Brown and Bavasi vehemently denied the meeting had anything to do with Rodgers’ firing, and sources close to Bavasi confirmed the firing was Bavasi’s idea. Brown and chairman Jackie Autry approved the firing, and Gene Autry told Rodgers in a phone call Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of the firing until Wednesday.
“You’ve got a guy who’s been through a tough, traumatic experience,” Bavasi said, “and (Rodger’s) entitled to make any comments that he deems appropriate.
“But what I told you (Tuesday) is the absolute truth. I know what happened. Rich knows what happened. The Autrys know what happened.
“I stand by what I said, and it was totally my decision.”
It’s just difficult for Rodgers to believe Bavasi, who was hired Jan. 12, would fire him this quickly. Yet, sources insist Bavasi was troubled by Rodgers’ stubbornness, and was convinced they could not co-exist. Bavasi wanted to hire his own manager, and his only choice was Marcel Lachemann.
If Lachemann had rejected the job, Bavasi said Wednesday, Rodgers would still be manager.
Yet, it might take days, if not weeks or months, to convince Rodgers that Brown was not behind the firing. Take a look at the track record since Brown has been president, Rodgers said, and you’ll find his fingerprints on the departures of general managers Mike Port, Dan O’Brien and Whitey Herzog, and manager Doug Rader.
Brown has been team president since Nov. 1 1990. Before that he had been the Angel legal counsel since 1981 and he has no baseball background.
“There’s still some kind of cancer here with the California Angels,” Rodgers said, directing his comments directly toward Brown. “I think that’s very obvious for someone who’s been here for 15 minutes.
“This organization is not all bad. This organization is very salvageable. But there’s a paranoia here. There’s a fear of failure that has to go.”
Rodgers, 55, an original member of the Angels’ expansion team, says Brown is threatened by those who played the game, and it has become quite apparent in the last nine months with O’Brien, Herzog and Rodgers all leaving.
“If you’re a paranoid person,” Rodgers said, “you’re threatened by everything and anything about you. There’s something against people who played the game. ‘You’re not as smart as the next person or you can’t do the job as well.’
“I wasn’t after anybody’s job. I have trouble enough with my own job, which I don’t have anymore.”
Although this was a news conference called by Rodgers at the Jolly Roger Inn in Anaheim, the Angels sent a club official to monitor Rodgers’ remarks. When informed of Rodgers’ comments, Brown refused to address them.
Rodgers, who will be paid $600,000 this year and $600,000 in 1995--and is expected to earn $3 million to $5 million in his settlement involving the Angels’ 1992 bus accident--said he likely will sit out this season before considering another managerial job.