Frank McCourt dealt with his dissatisfaction Saturday the way he has throughout his short tenure as Dodger owner -- he fired somebody.
General Manager Paul DePodesta became the 11th high-level employee to be let go since McCourt purchased the team in January 2004. This time the owner said he was pushed to the breaking point by the team’s inability to put together back-to-back successful seasons.
The Dodgers went 71-91 and finished fourth in the National League West one year after winning the division for the first time since 1995.
“I have high expectations and one of those is winning,” McCourt said. “And this organization is committed to doing whatever is necessary to achieve those expectations. Clearly, we did not fulfill those expectations this past season.”
McCourt announced the change at a news conference at Dodger Stadium. He said the search for a successor will begin at once and that the new general manager will take part in the hiring of a manager.
Pat Gillick, who led Toronto to consecutive World Series titles in the 1990s and also was a general manager in Baltimore and Seattle, is considered the leading candidate to replace DePodesta. Gerry Hunsicker, who put together much of the Houston Astro team that advanced to the World Series this year, also could get strong consideration.
Bobby Valentine, a former Dodger player and New York Met manager, could vault in front of current finalists Terry Collins, Alan Trammell and Orel Hershiser to become manager. Valentine last week led the Chiba Lotte Marines to the Japan Series title.
“I don’t want to get into the business of picking one name or another name at this time,” McCourt said.
DePodesta learned that he would be fired from a reporter Friday. McCourt did not speak to him until Saturday morning, but by the afternoon DePodesta seemed to have come to terms with losing his job. He has three years left on a five-year contract and will be paid about $2.2 million.
“I truly believe that this franchise is poised to begin the next great era of Dodger baseball,” DePodesta said. “I have a tremendous amount of affection for the players, staff and front office and I wish everyone the best of luck. Most importantly, I want to thank the fans for their unparalleled support of the team.”
McCourt hired DePodesta in the first days of his ownership, and they worked well together until recently. The payroll was less than McCourt had publicly promised, but DePodesta didn’t mind because it was still higher than most teams.
They agreed that parting ways with Manager Jim Tracy after the season was a necessary move and DePodesta presided over the organizational meetings for three days last week.
DePodesta, 32, wanted to hire Collins, the Dodger farm director, before the World Series and was excited that the entire baseball operations department -- from scouts to the minor league teams to the Dodger clubhouse -- would be a cohesive unit for the first time in many years.
But sources said McCourt’s involvement in the managerial search increased despite his earlier pledge that it was DePodesta’s hire. McCourt was not convinced Collins was the right choice and did not invite DePodesta to a dinner interview with Hershiser, a former Dodger pitching great.
Now Hershiser is considered a candidate for a front-office position as well as for manager. A source said Dodger special advisor Tom Lasorda twice met with Hershiser in Texas about a month ago.
“He obviously keenly understands what it means to be a Dodger,” McCourt said. “We want to restore the glory and we want to achieve greatness. The Dodgers are a special franchise and we want Dodgers here.”
DePodesta, despite nearly two years on the Dodger payroll, was an outsider to McCourt, who was perplexed by DePodesta’s reclusive nature. A strategic communications firm hired by the Dodgers in spring training became frustrated by DePodesta’s seeming indifference to public relations and helped convince McCourt that someone more fan-friendly was necessary.
However, the primary job of a general manager is to build a winning team, and there were problems with that as well. The Dodgers won the division with a roster DePodesta mostly inherited from his predecessor, Dan Evans, and the team went flat this season after an abundance of off-season moves.
DePodesta, a Harvard graduate who never played professional baseball, tried to distance himself from the notion that he relied solely on statistical analysis in evaluating players.
He was a central figure in the book, “Moneyball,” which chronicled a season with the Oakland Athletics when DePodesta was their assistant general manager, and the characterization of him as a soulless computer nerd bothered him greatly.
Collins and others in the front office who worked closely with DePodesta disputed the notion, saying he accepted input from the team’s scouts and was constantly looking for innovative ways to make the Dodgers better.
Injuries played a huge role in the team’s disappointing finish, a factor McCourt indicated weeks ago absolved the front office of blame.
But somewhere along the way, he changed his mind.
“It was a decision that I had truthfully been struggling with for some time,” McCourt said. “Paul has some very positive attributes, and I wanted nothing more than to see him be successful. And I’m sure he will be at some point in the future.”
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Key Dodger figures fired since Frank McCourt purchased the team in January 2004:
*--* * Dan Evans, general manager * Bob Graziano, president * Kris Rone, marketing VP * Mike Mularky, information systems director * Ross Porter, broadcaster * Lon Rosen, marketing VP * Gary Miereanu, communications VP * Doug Duennes, stadium operations VP * Jim Tracy, manager * John Olguin, public relations VP * Paul DePodesta, general manager