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Dent Out as Yankee Manager

June 07, 1990|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the results of Tuesday's primaries were still being assimilated Wednesday, Bucky Dent was removed from office--a predictable exit that required no poll.

In his 18th season as dictatorial owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner has changed managers 19 times. Dent's firing was accompanied by familiar rhetoric.

"George languished long and hard over this decision," General Manager Harding Peterson said. "We all believe the club is better than the record indicates."

Carl (Stump) Merrill, manager of the Yankees' triple-A team at Columbus, Ohio, will replace Dent for the remainder of a season certain to feature speculation that Davey Johnson, fired as the New York Mets' manager nine days ago, will eventually occupy Steinbrenner's hot seat.

Dent replaced Dallas Green as Yankee manager Aug. 18. The club had an 18-22 record the rest of the season and was 18-31, baseball's worst record, at the time of his firing Wednesday--Steinbrenner's third fastest at the start of a season.

Bob Lemon was fired after only 14 games in 1982, and Yogi Berra after 16 in 1985.

Also fired Wednesday were third base coach Joe Sparks, batting coach Champ Summers and bullpen catcher Gary Tuck.

Buck Showalter, who was Dent's eye in the sky, aligning the defense from a seat in the stands, will replace Sparks at third base. Former Yankee manager Gene Michael will become the eye in the sky, and former major league catcher Marc Hill will take Tuck's assignment.

The names change but the heat goes on. Under Steinbrenner, the Yankees live in the shadow of their proud past. The 1990 team, without a major run producer other than Don Mattingly or a reliable starting pitcher, ranked 12th among the American League's 14 teams Wednesday with a .248 batting average and eighth in earned-run average at 4.01.

Dent, in a brief meeting with reporters after his firing, said that under the circumstances, he felt he had done everything he could do.

Dave Winfield and Luis Polonia, a couple of former Yankees who were traded to the Angels this season, said they weren't surprised by the move.

"They were playing bad. I'm glad I'm here," said Winfield, who, against his wishes, was platooned by Dent early this season. "I'm not going to sit here and gloat. I'm done with (the Yankees)."

Polonia said: "I'm here, (Dent's) not here anymore. I guess people value my job more than they value his job.

"I'm sure Bucky was trying to do more than he really could. The pitching wasn't doing good, the hitting wasn't hitting. Somebody there had to get the blame.

"New York will never win if Steinbrenner never gets out of there, and he won't. Forget about it. He hires managers and then he doesn't let them manage." Mattingly agreed. "Bucky wasn't the reason we weren't winning," the first baseman said. "I've always said you have to have consistency. I said it when Dallas was fired and I say it now--someone's got to stay. Maybe Stump's the guy."

Said catcher Rick Cerone: "This had nothing to do with Bucky. He's just a scapegoat. Everyone knows we're the ones who got him fired."

Dent provided one miracle for the Yankees when his playoff home run off Mike Torrez of the Boston Red Sox lifted the team to the 1978 Eastern Division title, but it is generally conceded that it would have taken another miracle for him to have survived as manager of this Yankee team.

The challenge may even stump the anonymous Stump, who holds a master's degree in physical education from the University of Maine but who probably will receive an education from Steinbrenner unlike any he has had before.

The 5-foot-8 Merrill, 46, spent six years as a catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies' minor league system, won five pennants managing in the Yankee system, spent two years as New York's eye in the sky and was leading the International League's Southern Division in his third stint as Columbus manager.

"I think I have achieved something that, if you had put odds on it, you would have won a lot of money," Merrill said of his appointment. "I feel sad for Bucky, but I look at it in terms of what it means to Stump Merrill--and it's one of the happiest days of my life."

Merrill said he knows only about 15 players.

"The timing of the lockout was bad for me because I didn't even go to spring training (with the major league team)," he said.

"From watching them (on television), it looked like a listless club, and that's not my style. I'm generally easygoing, but once I put that baseball hat on, it's business and business only. I'm aggressive, I like to force the action. It took me 14 years to get to this point, and I intend to make the most of it.

"I'm not going to say we'll win the pennant, but we're going to put a product on the field that will perform. We'll play hard and we'll have fun."

Columbus General Manager Ken Schnacke said Merrill has what it takes to be a success in the majors.

"He's sneaky smart," Schnacke said. "Like he said when I talked to him earlier, a lot of people in New York will say, 'Who the hell's Stump Merrill?' but he doesn't care. He knows he can manage. He said he just hopes he catches lightning in a bottle."

A long list of others have discovered, however, that lightning in a bottle might pale in comparison to the owner's thunder.

Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this story.

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