By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Charlie Manuel was fired Thursday as manager of the Cleveland Indians, the first of what could be many moves during the second half as the team rebuilds.
Manuel (pictured, above) was in the final year of his contract with the disappointing Indians, who are 39-47 and 9½ games behind division-leading Minnesota. He was the seventh manager fired since the season began.
"Charlie felt strongly that now was the time to make a long-term conmmitment to him going forward," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "I felt strongly with the changes that have been made, with the uncertain ground we're on for the rest of the season ... I wasn't ready in that environment to make that commitment."
Third-base coach Joel Skinner was appointed interim manager.
Skinner, who caught for the Indians from 1989-91, was the minor league manager of the year in 1998 at Double-A Akron.
Manuel was seen on his way to the parking garage at Jacobs Field just a few hours before the Indians opened a four-game series with the New York Yankees.
There had been growing speculation that the Indians might replace the 58-year-old Manuel, who last week said he felt he was the best candidate to help the team's young players develop.
But the Indians decided not only to reshape their roster, but to change managers as well.
"It had less to do with Charlie and more to do with the circumstances around him," Shapiro said.
The Indians have sputtered offensively this season after trading Roberto Alomar and not re-signing Juan Gonzalez. Owner Larry Dolan told Shapiro to trim $15 million off last season's $91 million payroll.
As the team has scored fewer runs, fan support has dwindled. The normally sold-out Jacobs Field has seen some of its smallest crowds this season since the park first opened in 1994.
Manuel was in the final year of his contract after Cleveland exercised his option in October.
Manuel had hoped to get an extension and stay with the defending AL Central champions, who haven't looked anything like the Cleveland clubs that won six titles in seven years.
Manuel's last appearance in an Indians uniform was Tuesday night as one of the AL coaches at the All-Star game.
He met with Shapiro after returning from Milwaukee on Wednesday and talked with Dolan on Thursday.
Shapiro told Manuel he wanted him to stay on for the rest of the season, but Manuel insisted on a longer commitment.
"I told him yesterday to go home and think it over. He came back today and hadn't changed his position. He was adamant," Shapiro said. "But there was no animosity. I told him how much I wanted him to stay. I brought Larry Dolan in and he tried to talk him into staying also. But I couldn't go with the pressure right now at this moment, so I had to make this decision."
The Indians started the season 11-1, but injuries and a lack of production in key spots led to their freefall.
Cleveland moved into a rebuilding phase last month when it traded ace Bartolo Colon to Montreal. The Indians are looking to make other deals before the July 31 deadline as they rebuild with young position players and a strong pitching staff.
Skinner, who played for an Indians team that changed managers, said it's not always an easy transition.
"It's a shock from a player standpoint," he said. "It's something you have to digest and go through but, one thing, tonight we have a game to play. I think it helps that situation."
Manuel, who lost his bench coach during spring training when Grady Little was hired to manage Boston, was in his third season as manager after being named to replace Mike Hargrove in November 1999.
The Indians won 90 games under Manuel in 2000 but failed to win the Central and make the playoffs for the first time since 1995.
They won 91 games in his second season, reclaiming the division from Chicago but were knocked out by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
Manuel, who underwent heart surgery while with the team as a coach, also had health problems in his first two seasons as manager, battling an infected colon.
He missed 13 games during the 2001 season because of colon surgery and wasn't with the club to celebrate when it clinched the Central.
Manuel had a 210-190 record with the Indians, who finished the season's first half as the AL's worst hitting club.
It was Manuel who helped keep Cleveland's prolific offense in tune from 1994 to 1999 as the team's hitting coach.
With a lineup featuring Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, Cleveland led the AL in homers twice and runs scored three times in the '90s. The Indians scored 1,009 runs in 1999, becoming the first team since the 1950 Boston Red Sox to surpass 1,000 runs.
Manuel also served as the Indians hitting coach from 1988-89 and managed the team's Triple-A affiliate from 1990-93.
He had just 73 hits and four home runs in his six-year major league career with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers, but found success playing in Japan where he hit 189 homers in six seasons from 1976 to 1981.
With his hiring, Skinner and his father Bob become the second father-son tandem to manage in the big leagues. Bob Skinner managed Philadelphia and San Diego in the 1970s. George and Dick Sisler are the other father-son managing duo in the majors.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)