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ROJAS' RESPONSE : Fired Angel Manager Says Injuries, Lack of Front-Office Support Hurt Him

September 25, 1988|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Cookie Rojas emerged from the sanctuary of screened phone calls Saturday afternoon, having spent a full day in silent contemplation of his dismissal as Angel manager.

Twenty-four hours after the fact, the decision still didn't make sense to Rojas.

"I don't think I did a bad job," Rojas said from his apartment in Orange. "Everybody makes mistakes, but I think I got the most out of my players. . . . If the club had stayed healthy, we'd have been .500 or better and almost to third place.

"People may say I did this or that wrong, but overall, what I did paid off. I don't see too many (Angel players) having bad years.

"Jack Howell played the most games he had in his life. (Dick) Schofield played well, (Wally) Joyner had a very good year. Johnny Ray started out in left field, then we moved him to second base and he did an outstanding job there. Bob Boone had the best year of his career with me."

Rojas also pointed out that his 1988 Angels fared better in the standings than Gene Mauch's 1987 club, which lost 21 of its last 30 games to finish 75-87 and in last place in the American League West.

Under Rojas, the Angels were 75-79 and in fourth place in the AL West.

"We won as many games as last year and got out of last place," Rojas said. "It's after the fact, but if (Dan) Petry stayed healthy, he maybe would have won another 5 or 6 games. And if (Kirk) McCaskill was healthy, he might've won 5 or 6 more. Add those wins up and we're 10 games over .500."

Rojas, who called his firing "a complete surprise," believes he was a victim of injuries on the field and a lack of support from the Angel front office.

"We had so many injuries," Rojas said. "That's not looking for excuses, that's just facts.

"We had Devon White and Mark McLemore out for 2 months. We lost Dan Petry and Kirk McCaskill, and Chuck Finley missed four starts. At the end, we lost our best reliever, Bryan Harvey, who'd been the savior of our bullpen."

And when those front-line Angels went down, the only assistance Rojas received came from minor league recalls and retreads. Angel General Manager Mike Port did not make a trade during the season. The only outside addition he made was reserve outfielder Thad Bosley, signed after his release by the Kansas City Royals.

"We didn't help ourselves when we were still hot in the second half and started to lose some people," Rojas said.

Rojas also wonders about the timing of his firing, just eight games before the end of the regular season. Why now? He wonders if he was fired on Friday because of his much-publicized mistake Thursday night--inadvertently making a second visit to the mound in the same inning and being forced, red-faced, to replace pitcher Rich Monteleone.

"Maybe it was my mistake on the mound," he surmised. "But what about the 3 months we spent with the best record in baseball? (The Angels went 31-11 in one midseason stretch.) Doesn't that mean anything to the team?"

Another reported Rojas error was not playing enough young players once the team was mathematically eliminated 2 weeks ago.

"They say I didn't play enough of the kids," Rojas said. "I think I did play them. But I was also trying to win enough games to get to .500.

"We still had a chance to get above .500 and into third place. If I start taking the veteran players out to play the kids, then it's 'You didn't try to get to .500.' You're trying to do two things--and winning is No. 1. Second is to give young players an opportunity."

Rojas, 50, has been offered another position within the organization, most likely in the scouting department, but hasn't decided if he will accept it.

"I want to just relax a little bit right now, take 10 or 12 days and get my thoughts together," Rojas said. "I'm going to take some time and see what's available."

He said he hopes to manage in the major leagues again.

"Definitely," Rojas said. "This year was a good experience for me, no question. I learned a lot. I learned that this is not an easy job. . . ."

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