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UNSTEADY WITH EDDIE DESPITE DODGERS' RECENT SURGE, MURRAY FIRED AS TEAM'S HITTING COACH MUELLER WILL TAKE OVER IN AN INTERIM ROLE.

Byline: TONY JACKSON

Staff Writer

Drawing the conclusion that a great hitter doesn't necessarily make a great hitting coach, the Dodgers announced Thursday that they had fired Eddie Murray, barely 17 months after he was hired.

Murray, a first-ballot Hall of Famer as a switch-hitting infielder, now has been dismissed midseason as hitting coach by two different clubs in the past three seasons.

The move came immediately after Wednesday night's 9-1 victory over the New York Mets.

"We had some players we were expecting much more out of than we are getting now," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "We never do anything around here without carefully considering all of our options. We needed to make ourselves better, and we felt like this was the time to make a change."

Exactly what, or whom, they are changing to isn't immediately known. Bill Mueller, a special assistant to general manager Ned Colletti, will take over the role on an interim basis. Mueller, who is still being paid $4.5 million in the final season of his last playing contract after his career ended prematurely just more than a year ago because of a knee injury, will become, by far, the highest-paid hitting coach in baseball.

Colletti said he wasn't sure how long the process of finding a permanent replacement for Murray will take.

"Billy agreed to help us bridge the gap," Colletti said. "I can't tell you if that will be a day, a week or a month."

Colletti said Mueller could be a candidate, but neither he nor Mueller seemed especially enthusiastic when the subject was raised.

"To be honest, it is very difficult to think long-term just because this happened so fast," Mueller said. "I was just starting to adjust to a new role recently, and I would be dishonest to (tell) you I had really thought of it beyond right now. There are many factors in my own personal life that will determine whether I want to do this long-term or not."

There is a strong possibility the new hitting coach will be someone already employed by the organization. Roving minor-league hitting instructor Bill Robinson, Triple-A Las Vegas hitting coach Mike Easler and roving outfield/baserunning coordinator Gene Clines all would be logical candidates.

Although neither Colletti nor Little mentioned any of them by name, it was obvious from a Colletti comment that he and Little are leaning strongly in the direction of the club's player development department.

"These things are ... especially difficult in the midst of a season," Colletti said. "Before we upset our minor-league system and have people moving around into different positions because we removed somebody from that area, we want to be sure that is the direction we want to pursue."

Asked if the club would consider candidates both from within and from outside the organization, Colletti offered only a tepid response.

"We'll see," he said.

The Dodgers led the National League in hitting last season with a collective average of .276, and they were fourth in runs scored. But they also hit fewer home runs than all but one other club. This year, the Dodgers are sixth in the NL with a .261 average, tied for seventh in runs scored and, again, next to last in home runs with a laughable 43.

Murray, a Los Angeles native who lives in Canyon Country, wasn't held responsible for much of that because those numbers are consistent with the makeup of the club. Furthermore, his firing comes on the heels of an impressive three-game sweep of the Mets in which the Dodgers scored 18runs and batted a resounding .307 as a team.

But there have long been whispers from within the organization about the degree to which players responded to Murray's sometimes-brusque, not-always-communicative style.

Center fielder Juan Pierre, whom the club signed as a free agent last winter to a five-year, $44-million contract and whose game is built around speed, is only now showing signs of getting on track, and his approach at the plate -- too many fly balls, not enough walks -- has been questionable all season.

Third baseman Wilson Betemit, like Murray a switch-hitter with power, was hitting well below .200 until a recent binge of hitting and drawing walks helped him rebound to his current .223.

Murray also was fired as Cleveland's hitting coach midway through the 2005 season. He had held that job since 2002.

Robinson, who will turn 64 in two weeks, is in his second season with the Dodgers, and his resume as a big-league hitting coach is impressive. He served in that role for two different World Series-winning clubs: the 1986 New York Mets and the 2003 Florida Marlins. That Marlins club had Pierre, who had arguably his two best seasons under Robinson after being traded to Florida from Colorado.

Easler, 56, also is in his second season with the organization. He moved up to Las Vegas this year from Double-A Jacksonville, so he has spent countless hours working with some of the club's most promising young players, including current big leaguers Tony Abreu and Matt Kemp, and Las Vegas third baseman Andy LaRoche. Easler also has been a big-league hitting coach for three different clubs.

Clines, 60, is in his first season with the organization and has a long association with Colletti. He has been a major-league hitting coach for five different teams, including the past two seasons with the Chicago Cubs and from 1997-2002 with San Francisco, when Colletti was the Giants' assistant GM.

tony.jackson@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3675

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Eddie Murray was fired midseason as hitting coach for the second time in the past three seasons after the Dodgers dismissed him Thursday.

Richard Drew/Associated Press

(2 -- color) no caption (Russel Martin) Box: ANGELS at DODGERS
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 15, 2007
Words:965
Previous Article:L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.
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