Sorry, Charlie. Manuel Talks About Being Fired

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A chaotic season for the Cleveland Indians took another crazy turn.

Manager Charlie Manuel, unhappy the team wouldn't assure him a long-term contract, forced his own firing Thursday.

"He said he needed to know that he was my guy," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, who in his first year on the job has traded Roberto Alomar, Bartolo Colon and, in his latest move, dismissed Manuel. "I wasn't ready to make that commitment."

Third-base coach Joel Skinner was appointed interim manager, and under him the Indians lost 7-4 to the New York Yankees on Thursday night. Shapiro said Skinner will be a candidate to become the full-time manager after the season.

Manuel (pictured, above) was in the final year of his contract with the Indians. He wanted assurances he was part of the club's rebuilding plans during a Wednesday meeting with Shapiro and owner Larry Dolan.

"I just wanted to know where I stood," Manuel said by phone. "Once we sold out on Colon, I knew we were going in another direction. I felt like I needed to know if they wanted me around."

Shapiro wasn't planning to replace Manuel until the 58-year-old gave him no alternative.

"I wanted Charlie to stay. I really did," Shapiro said. "I'm really disappointed."

The Indians have been one of baseball's big flops this season. The perennial AL power recently shifted into to a full-fledged rebuilding mode by trading Colon to Montreal for minor league prospects.

With the loss in the opener of a four-game series against the Yankees, the Indians dropped to 39-48, 10½ games behind division-leading Minnesota.

Andy Pettitte didn't allow an earned run in seven innings and Jorge Posada drove in two runs as the Yankees won for the seventh time in eight games and moved a season-high 24 games over .500.

The Indians scored three runs in the ninth before Mariano Rivera got Omar Vizquel on a grounder for his 22nd save in 24 tries. C.C. Sabathia (6-8) took the loss.

Manuel, who had been in the Indians' organization since 1988, said walking away was difficult.

"I've had great memories here," Manuel said. "Everything was great, except this. It was tough. I love the Indians and the job."

Manuel, who went 220-190 with the Indians, was the seventh manager fired since the season began.

The 41-year-old Skinner caught for the Indians from 1989-91. He was the minor league manager of the year in 1998 at Cleveland's Double-A Akron affiliate.

Skinner learned he would become manager in the afternoon while picking up his son and some friends.

"They got in the car, and I said, 'Can you guys keep a secret?'" said Skinner, whose father, Bob, an ex-Pirate, managed Philadelphia for parts of two seasons and San Diego for one game. "Those four guys were the first to know."

There had been speculation the Indians might replace Manuel, who last week said he felt he was the best candidate to help develop the team's young players. 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. "This was not something I expected to do."

Shapiro said he was surprised when Manuel insisted he get a commitment from the club beyond October.

"I wanted to have one meeting, and Charlie wanted to have another," Shapiro said.

Manuel said he doesn't regret his decision to force the Indians' hand.

"I wanted some answers," he said. "I didn't want to be in limbo. I don't think my stubbornness cost me."

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, and it is expected to drop further.

"I guess Charlie was unhappy not knowing what his future was," reliever Paul Shuey said. "If he wasn't going to be part of the rebuilding, I guess he thought he'd take his show on the road."

Manuel's last appearance in an Indians uniform was Tuesday night as one of the AL coaches at the All-Star game.

Notes: Yankees manager Joe Torre said he will go with a six-man rotation for the first couple series of the second half "to keep everybody sharp." ... The Skinners are the second father-son managerial tandem in baseball history, joining George and Dick Sisler.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)