Now, it’s Pete Mackanin’s turn to end the enduring slump.
The Cincinnati Reds turned to their advance scout on Monday to try to jolt the major leagues’ worst team out of its doldrums. They fired manager Jerry Narron on Sunday night, barely a year after he got a two-year contract extension that suggested stability.
Instead, they’ve chosen change.
Mackanin will be the team’s fourth manager since it moved into Great American Ball Park in 2003. The franchise also has been through two owners and three general managers during that whirlwind, five-year span.
Instability is becoming their hallmark.
“Baseball is a tough business,” owner Bob Castellini said Monday. “If people want to perceive we’re a rocky ship, they can do that. But I can tell you we have a direction.”
This season has been one of their biggest shipwrecks in the last 25 years.
The Reds are headed for their seventh straight losing season, their longest stretch of futility in a half-century. Since winning the World Series in 1990, they’ve made only one playoff appearance – in 1995 under Davey Johnson.
They have the major leagues’ worst record at 31-51 and are in last place in the weak NL Central, trailing Milwaukee by 16¬Ù games. Fans have lost interest as rapidly as the team has lost games: Cincinnati is on pace for its first 100-loss season since 1982.
“These are not popular times,” Castellini said.
They hope the managerial change makes them more palatable.
“History will tell you when a new guy comes in, there is often a good initial response,” general manager Wayne Krivsky said. “It has a way of re-energizing a team oftentimes, and I think Pete will energize our team.”
The 51-year-old Narron had an easygoing manner that grated on fans impatient with all the losing. The Reds relied too heavily on home runs, failed to do little things right, and couldn’t overcome a bullpen that led the league in losses and sapped the team of its energy.
“It just didn’t work,” Krivsky said. “We need a different voice. We need a different approach.”
Krivsky said he hasn’t spoken to anyone else about the job. He plans to see how the 55-year-old Mackanin – a friend for the last 10 years – does as the interim manager before he decides who will get the job.
“It’s amazing to me this guy hasn’t been considered more than he has,” Krivsky said. “Maybe he’s not political enough. Maybe it’s not being at the right place at the right time.”
Mackanin managed the Reds’ Triple-A team from 1990-92, when Lou Piniella was managing in Cincinnati. He has managed in the minors for 13 years, and ran the Pirates for the final 26 games of the 2005 season after Lloyd McClendon was fired.
He was on his way back from San Francisco, where he was scouting the Giants. The Reds were off Monday before opening a three-game home series against the Giants.
The Reds headed into the season with high hopes of contending in the weak NL Central, where they remained in contention most of last season on their way to an 80-82 finish. They increased the payroll by $10 million and extended the contracts of starting pitchers Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo with their biggest spending spree since 2000, when they brought Ken Griffey Jr. home.
They didn’t make the right moves with the bullpen, which leads the league with 18 losses. Only closer David Weathers has been dependable in a bullpen that currently features three rookies.
The bullpen imploded again Sunday during an 11-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. A few hours after the game, Krivsky met Narron in the manager’s office and told him he was finished.
“He took it hard,” Krivsky said. “He was emotional. That’s all I want to say about it.”
Narron was the second big league manager fired this season. Baltimore’s Sam Perlozzo lost his job on June 18. Seattle’s Mike Hargrove announced Sunday that he was quitting because he had lost his passion to manage.
During the 1990s, the Reds convinced voters that they would return to glory if a local sales tax was increased to build a new ballpark. Voters went along, and Great American opened in 2003.
Midway through its inaugural season, general manager Jim Bowden and manager Bob Boone were fired. Bowden was replaced by Dan O’Brien, who then was fired when Castellini took control of the team early last year.
Dave Miley took over as manager after Boone was fired, and was replaced midway through the 2005 season by Narron. Now, Mackanin gets to audition for the job.
Castellini acknowledged that constant change makes it difficult for an organization to succeed.
“If we don’t get this worked out, I’m liable to fire myself someday,” he said.