Six months after enlisting Cookie Rojas as their stopgap solution to Manager Gene Mauch's abrupt retirement, the Angels decided they needed a stopgap for the stopgap. They fired Rojas Friday, eight games before the end of the regular season.
Moose Stubing, the team's third base coach, was named interim manager by General Manager Mike Port, who will begin a search for a more permanent replacement at the end of the season.
"We have a wide pool of candidates," said Port, who is believed to be considering such men as Chicago White Sox Manager Jim Fregosi, who managed the Angels to their first division championship in 1979; Angel television commentator Joe Torre, who managed the Atlanta Braves into the 1982 National League playoffs, and, possibly, Mauch again.
"Where we are right now, we're not ruling anything out," Port said.
Where the Angels found themselves Friday morning, after 154 games under Rojas, was in fourth place in the American League West standings at 75-79 and 23 1/2 games behind the first-place Oakland Athletics. They were 2-8 on this home stand and had lost 4 consecutive games through Thursday night.
The seventh inning of that night's 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins may well have been responsible for the pink slip that Rojas was handed Friday.
Forgetting that pitching coach Marcel Lachemann had already visited reliever Rich Monteleone on the mound during the inning, Rojas also went out to talk to Monteleone--without intending to remove him from the game.
But two visits per pitcher per inning are as many as are allowed, and an embarrassed Rojas was forced by umpires to remove Monteleone from the game.
"It just slipped my mind," Rojas said afterward.
Friday morning, Port was confronted by these newspaper headlines:
--"Cookie Loses Count, Angels Lose Game."
--"Mental Lapse Manages to Hit Angels With 6-2 Loss to Twins."
--"Once Again, Rojas Keeps Them Off Balance as Twins Get Past California."
Friday morning, Port called Rojas into his office to tell the manager he was being relieved of his duties.
At a news conference at Anaheim Stadium later, Port did not go as far as to call Thursday night's game the final straw but conceded: "There were a lot of straws on the camel's back. To say one specific occurrence led to the change is hard, but there were a number of factors that contributed to us taking the action we did today."
Among those, according to sources, were the following:
--The club's play during this home stand, which all but ended Angel hopes for a .500 season. Port believes this team has better than .500 talent.
--Rojas' reluctance to experiment with such September minor league recalls as outfielder Dante Bichette, a highly regarded prospect. The Angels were mathematically eliminated from the race nearly 2 weeks ago, but Rojas continued to play his weary regulars. The last two times he started Bichette, he pinch-hit for him in the sixth inning with 38-year-old bench-warmer George Hendrick.
--Rojas' dealings with the media, particularly on medical matters. Earlier in the season, Rojas told Angel trainers not to discuss injuries with reporters, that he would disseminate all injury information--or misinformation, as it often developed.
Then Thursday night, during an emotional postgame interview in which Rojas defended his performance in the face of mounting injuries, he let slip that relief pitcher Greg Minton would need knee surgery in the off-season. The Angel front office prefers to make such announcements.
Port, however, would only discuss his dissatisfaction in general terms.
"There were a number of areas and regards where the club was not responding," Port said. "In this business, sometimes change for the sake of change can be a positive thing. We hope this has a catalytic effect.
" . . . The bottom line is that we will finish in such-and-such a place in the standings. We've got some guys who have showed their ability on occasion, but we haven't been on the good side of things as often as we had hoped."
Port said he had initiated the decision to fire Rojas, that he had telephoned Angel owner Gene Autry Friday morning to propose a change.
"I called Mr. and Mrs. Autry this morning and conveyed my thoughts to them and what I wanted to do," Port said. "They asked some clarifying questions, and although I wouldn't use the word sold , we arrived at the same conclusion--to do what I recommended."
Eight losses in 10 home games also helped persuade Autry.
"You've been watching them," Autry said of his team. "They kind of look disorganized. They haven't been playing good ball. The team hasn't been able to bounce back.
"The time had come to make a change."
Rojas could not be reached for comment. After leaving Port's office, Rojas returned to his Orange apartment and declined to answer reporters' phone calls.
"He asked for a day to be alone with his thoughts," an Angel spokesman said.