NEW YORK - The New York Mets fired manager Art Howe on Wednesday but left him in the dugout for the final 2½ weeks of a season gone bad after the All-Star break.
General manager Jim Duquette said he wanted to announce the firing after the year, but was forced to act this week after news broke of his plan. He said he asked Howe to stay for the final 17 games, and the manager agreed.
“The fact is, I’m not fired now. I’m leaving after the season,” Howe said during an awkward day at Shea Stadium. “I’m not a quitter.”
“You see it happen to other people,” he said. “You always hope it doesn’t happen to you.”
Howe’s contract runs through the 2006 season and he’s still owed $4.7 million. But with the Mets again floundering after a 66-95 finish last year in Howe’s first season, management decided it was time for a change.
The Mets lost for the 21st time in 25 games Wednesday night, 2-0 to Atlanta. The defeat dropped them to 63-83.
“I saw strength and courage and conviction when I met Art Howe and I said, ‘Let’s go,”’ owner Fred Wilpon said on a conference call. “I take full responsibility that the results weren’t there.”
Al Leiter was the losing pitcher Wednesday night, and later said, “Contrary to how it looked, we care.”
Wilpon said Duquette would choose the next manager, and there are sure to be plenty of prominent names in the mix.
Former Mets stars Gary Carter, Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman have been mentioned, as have current major league managers Lou Piniella and Buck Showalter, along with former Arizona manager Bob Brenly. Even former manager Bobby Valentine, who guided the Mets to the 2000 World Series, could get a look.
The Mets began the year with a payroll over $100 million, highest in the NL. But injuries took their toll, and they rapidly fell out of contention after the midseason break.
“I don’t want to get into an evaluation of Art,” Duquette said. “It wasn’t working.”
It was not certain the last time a team let a lame-duck manager stay in the dugout for so long. In the NFL last season, coach Jim Fassel asked the New York Giants to announce his firing but allow him to stay for the final two games, and he did.
Howe told the team about the move before they took batting practice, and said the clubhouse was “very quiet.” Critics often said Howe was too laid-back and too easy on his players — in fact, outfielder Richard Hidalgo and pitcher Victor Zambrano walked into the meeting after it already had started.
Howe and Duquette later met the media in the manager’s office to talk about the decision. It made for at least one uncomfortable moment — after Howe was done speaking and sipping his coffee, a Mets official asked him to get out of his chair to make room for Duquette.
Later, Wilpon talked to Mets’ flagship radio station WFAN and the interview grew a bit contentious. It got so loud that a Mets employee was asked to turn off the sound system — which was tuned to WFAN — in the Shea elevator used by suite holders, pricey fans and club officials.
News broke earlier this week that the Mets would not keep Howe, who guided Oakland to playoff appearances from 2000-02, after this season. He met with Duquette and Wilpon on Tuesday, and Duquette told Howe the plans but also asked him to serve out the season.
“I’ve never walked away from anything. I’ve never quit anything,” Howe said.
Howe and Duquette both said injuries had hurt the Mets. Stars Mike Piazza, Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and many others have been banged up.
The Mets were only one game out of the NL East lead when they won their first game after the All-Star break. But after July 15, they went on a 16-38 skid that dropped them far out of contention.
“It’s unfortunate,” Floyd said. “We all know that when things don’t go well on the field, the first person to take the blame is the manager.”
Asked what Howe said at the start of the meeting, Floyd said he missed that part of the talk.
Howe, 57, said he’d think later about whether he’d want to manage in the future.
“After this season, I’m going to have to thaw out, to say the least,” he said.
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