Wrong Number : Perranoski Still Wonders Why He Was Fired With a Telephone Message
After he had spent 14 seasons as their pitching coach, the Dodgers unceremoniously took the shirt off Ron Perranoski’s back. Then they gave his number, 16, to Hideo Nomo, their latest investment in global economy.
Perranoski now wears the number on his San Francisco uniform as the Giants’ roving minor league instructor. He rejected an offer to become pitching coach of the Boston Red Sox, saying he had always loved the challenge of developmental work and needed a breather from the intensity of the major leagues.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Feb. 24, 1995 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 24, 1995 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 6 Column 4 Sports Desk 2 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Dodgers--Dodger Vice President Fred Claire told former pitching coach Ron Perranoski directly over the phone that he would not be rehired, not in a message on Perranoski’s answering machine, as was reported in Tuesday’s editions. Perranoski said the message on his machine was to call Claire, who then gave him the word.
He says he is not bitter about the Dodgers’ decision to promote minor league pitching coach Dave Wallace to his old job, but he is perplexed as to why his 21 years with the organization as an instructor--as well as the seven as a key member of the bullpen in the ‘60s--merited only a message left on his answering machine by Executive Vice President Fred Claire.
“I’m disappointed about the lack of communication,” he said after a skeletal Giant workout amid the ongoing labor dispute. “I’m sure they’d have made the same decision, but I think I deserved better than a message on my answering machine. If there had been any communication, if I had known they were even thinking about it, I’d have been able to get my ducks in a row.
“Then again, you find out in life that you don’t get a lot of the things you expect.”
Perranoski found the message about 10 p.m. at his Vero Beach home on Sept. 23, after a family outing. About five weeks earlier, a few days after the start of the players’ strike on Aug. 12, he had accompanied Claire and Manager Tom Lasorda to Wichita to watch Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort pitch for the Dodgers’ San Antonio farm club.
“We talked about the future of the pitching staff and some of the moves that might have to be made,” Perranoski said in reflection. “I had no idea my contract wouldn’t be renewed. There was nothing said then or any time after that.”
Pitching, for the most part, has been a Dodger hallmark. In nine of Perranoski’s 14 seasons as pitching coach, the Dodgers’ staff was first or second in the National League in earned-run average. As a minor league instructor, he helped develop three consecutive rookies of the year--Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe and Fernando Valenzuela.
The speculation regarding his dismissal:
--That ultimately he wasn’t one of Lasorda’s “boys” in the same way that coaches Joe Ferguson--also no longer with the club--Bill Russell and Mark Cresse are.
--That he was the scapegoat for Dreifort’s arm problems, paying a price for the frequency with which Lasorda used and warmed up the club’s No. 1 draft choice of 1993 in his first professional season.
--That the Dodgers believed they needed a younger coach to relate to a younger staff.
Perranoski dismisses all of that, but when asked if he believed Lasorda stood up for him, he hedges.
“I don’t know for sure,” he said. “I have my opinions, but I’d never say what they are.”
Sources within the organization say Lasorda was given 24 hours to voice any objections to Claire’s recommendation and didn’t.
“Tommy had input. We talked about it, but it was my decision,” Claire said from Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
“I don’t know if it’s really fair to Tommy to pass the responsibility. It was my recommendation.”
Claire said the organization has never had so many young pitchers on the verge of being ready, and that Wallace’s relationship with them was a key factor in the decision.
“The time was right for Dave to step up, just as the time was once right for Ron to step up,” Claire said, adding that other major league clubs had begun beating on Wallace’s door.
“We were not going to be able to keep him--he’s too good--and that wouldn’t have been good for the organization,” Claire said. “With our emphasis on young pitchers, Wallace represented the right man at the right time.
“I mean, it wasn’t a case of being critical of Ron. I have great respect for him. It wasn’t that he had done anything wrong. If he had asked, I couldn’t give him a reason why he wouldn’t have been able to continue to do his customary good job.”
Perranoski didn’t ask, and Claire didn’t try to justify leaving a message on Perranoski’s answering machine.
“It was just kind of the timing of it,” he said. “I don’t regret it, but I’ve given thought (to the idea that it could have been handled differently).”
Claire, Lasorda and Dodger owner Peter O’Malley all called Perranoski more than once after his firing, offering written and verbal support if he pursued other openings. And O’Malley, who also asked if the fired Perranoski wanted to be at Dodgertown this spring to help work with a Japanese team, did write a letter to the Florida Marlins when Perranoski thought he might be interested in the pitching coach’s job with his home state team.
Larry Rothschild was hired to fill that vacancy, but Kevin Kennedy, the new Boston manager who had worked with Perranoski in the Dodger organization, came hard after him. By then, though, Perranoski said he felt a need to get away from the pressures of a big league position and to have more time at home.
The Giants’ two-year offer satisfied those objectives while permitting his return to a full-time developmental role.
Giant manager and former Dodger Dusty Baker, who urged Perranoski’s hiring, said he doesn’t buy the concept that young players relate better to a young coach.
“I’m not saying that in certain situations it doesn’t help, but it depends on the coach,” Baker said. “Aren’t kids often more comfortable at their grandparents’ house than their own?
“I think Ron will prove to be an important cog in the future of our organization. To find a person of his ability and experience willing to go to the minors is big. I was very surprised when the Dodgers let him go.”
Perranoski will be 59 on April 1. He is a long way from the comfort of a house that is only four miles from Dodgertown, but he isn’t looking back in anger. He said he has thanked O’Malley for the opportunity “to enjoy a hell of a life and career with a class organization.”
He said that he has always been a close friend of Lasorda and doesn’t believe their relationship--or any alleged lack of a relationship--was a factor in his removal.
Likewise, he said, it’s unfair if anyone is portraying him as the scapegoat for Dreifort’s arm problems because:
--Dreifort joined the Dodgers with a sore knee and a tender elbow.
--His warm-ups and use were carefully monitored.
--He didn’t develop the elbow condition that now threatens his career until he reached the minors.
“I think they wanted to make a move with Dave Wallace, and that’s about it,” Perranoski said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with the job I was doing.
“I look at the consistency of Dodger pitching over the years and am very proud. They had every right to make the decision they did, of course, but I have every right to think the communication should have been better.”