OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — With his banged-up team mired in a nine-game losing streak and rampant speculation about the tenuous status of manager Bob Geren, general manager Billy Beane felt he had no other choice than to make a change at skipper.
The A’s fired a manager during the season for the first time in a quarter century on Thursday, letting Geren go after four-plus seasons and bringing in former Arizona and Seattle skipper Bob Melvin for the rest of the season.
“It felt like at this point a change was necessary,” Beane said. “It got to the point where the emphasis was on the status of the manager on a daily basis and no longer on the field. When that starts to happen, you need to shift the focus to what’s really important, which is performance. That’s how we came to this decision.”
Geren’s tenure in Oakland was marked by numerous injuries, a lack of offense, questions about his communication skills and high-profile departures as he was unable to post a winning season after taking over an AL West championship team from Ken Macha.
Geren posted a 334-376 record, including a 27-36 mark this season that has left Oakland eight games behind Texas in last place in the AL West.
The A’s currently have four starting pitchers on the disabled list, including a season-ending shoulder injury for Dallas Braden. Oakland also was without injured All-Star closer Andrew Bailey for the first two months and is last in the American League with just 223 runs through the first 63 games.
“Bob Melvin will inherit some of the challenges that Bob had,” Beane said. “Bob lost four starting pitchers in the space of three weeks. That was a tough body blow for the team. That was very difficult from Bob’s standpoint.”
Melvin, 49, took the helm for the series opener in Chicago against the White Sox on Thursday night. He posted a 493-508 record in seven seasons as manager with Seattle and Arizona. He led the Diamondbacks to the NL West title in 2007 and also won 93 games in his rookie season with the Mariners in 2003.
Melvin was also on Bob Brenly’s staff as bench coach in 2001 when the Diamondbacks won the World Series and the following year when they won the NL West. Melvin also coached for Milwaukee and Detroit.
He was fired by the Diamondbacks 29 games into the 2009 season, but got another chance when Beane decided it was time to let Geren go.
“This is a difficult situation,” Melvin said. “It was difficult for Billy. It’s going to be difficult for everybody involved here. It came together so quickly because we’ve know each other for so long and have so much respect for each other, know what the other one’s strengths are.”
Melvin played 10 seasons in the majors as a catcher with Detroit, San Francisco, Baltimore, Kansas City, Boston, the Yankees and White Sox. He batted .233 with 35 homers and 212 RBIs in 1,955 career at-bats.
Melvin is a Bay Area native who was born in Palo Alto, went to high school in Menlo Park, played college ball at Cal, spent time with the Giants in the majors and now gets to manage the A’s.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “This doesn’t happen very often in baseball, where you literally get to come home in the capacity that I do.”
The beleaguered Geren had come under criticism from his bullpen in recent weeks for a lack of communication with reliever Brian Fuentes and former Oakland closer Huston Street publicly criticized him.
That started the speculation about whether Geren would make it through his final season under contract.
“I can’t say it was a surprise,” Fuentes said. “Regardless whether it was our team or any other team, when things don’t go well there are always moves that are made.”
It was the rash of injuries and the total lack of offense that led to the current losing streak that finally spelled the end of Geren’s tenure.
With no homegrown hitting stars and disappointing starts by offseason acquisitions like Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus, the A’s find themselves in last place despite a stellar young pitching staff headed by All-Star Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and recently injured Brett Anderson.
“It’s got great pitching, good athletes and we’re going to try to play the game we’re suited to play,” Melvin said. “We’re probably not going to sit around and play for three-run homers a whole lot. We play in a ballpark that’s probably more conducive to being aggressive and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The current skid is the longest for the A’s since a 10-gamer in July 2008 and the fifth-longest single-season losing streak since the team moved to Oakland in 1968.
This is the first time the A’s have fired a manager during the season since getting rid of Jackie Moore after 73 games in 1986. Jeff Newman took over for 10 games on an interim basis before Tony La Russa was brought in to start a run that included four division titles and the 1989 World Series championship.
Beane said he started the process of evaluating Geren’s status a few weeks ago before making the ultimate decision.
“Whenever you replace your manager, it’s a drastic move,” Beane said. “I’ve never had to do it in my tenure as general manager. This is a new script for myself. I don’t know if you ever know what the right time is.”