(MCT) — PALM BEACH, Fla. — Less than 13 months ago, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria handed Ozzie Guillen a four-year, $10 million contract and praised him as a “category five manager” capable of putting the team in the playoffs in their first season at Marlins Park.
“Ozzie is a guy who is going to bring unbelievable passion,” Loria said. “I’ve been sitting around for a couple of years here seeing that ingredient missing from the clubhouse.”
Turns out, Guillen was the wrong ingredient.
With a brief phone call Tuesday, the Marlins fired Guillen minutes after he landed in Miami following a month-long trip to Spain, a vacation he started the day after the Marlins finished in last place with 93 losses.
His outrageous attitude also irritated team executives even though they knew they had hired a combustible personality.
“We knew Ozzie when he was a coach here (in 2003),” baseball operations president Larry Beinfest said Tuesday. “You never really know somebody until you live with them every day in the manager’s spot.”
But the bottom line was colossal dismay at the Marlins’ performance with a big payroll in a new stadium.
“It starts and ends when you look at the overall record and disappointment with this team,” Beinfest said, noting that the Marlins invested $191 million on free agents last winter.
He recalled that the Marlins had winning seasons even when the payroll was a fraction of last year’s $111 million.
“We need to find a way to re-ignite our winning culture,” Beinfest said. “For a number of years here, even after we won the World Series (in ‘03), we found ways to overcome challenges and put winning ball clubs on the field. I think we have gotten away from that a little bit.”
The team also dismissed bench coach Joey Cora, hitting coach Eduardo Perez, pitching coach Randy St. Claire and first base coach Gary Thurman, according to a Marlins source.
Third base coach Joe Espada and bullpen coach Reid Cornelius will be back, and the team is expected to bring back respected infield coach Perry Hill.
Beinfest admitted that a phone call was not the ideal way to fire a manager. But the World Series starts Wednesday, and Major League Baseball frowns on big announcements during the playoffs.
The timing highlights the eagerness of the front office to move forward, starting with a long-planned meeting Thursday in New York City with Loria to discuss next season.
The first task will be to find someone to become the eighth Marlins manager since Loria took control of the team in 2002.
Likely candidates include former Marlins catcher Mike Redmond, who played for the ‘03 team. The Marlins also might consider fired Cleveland manager Manny Acta. Former Marlins All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell is not believed to be a serious candidate.
Guillen came to the Marlins with a rich baseball pedigree. He was their third-base coach in ‘03 and he won a World Series in 2005 as manager of the Chicago White Sox. He also had a history of making controversial comments and clashing with White Sox GM Kenny Williams.
Although Loria a year ago said he wasn’t worried about Guillen “ruffling feathers,” that’s exactly what happened. In the first week of the season he sparked an uproar with comments in Time magazine that were sympathetic to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
“It was black eye for Ozzie and for the organization,” Beinfest said. “Let’s face it, it was not a positive for the team, it was not a positive for Ozzie, it was not a positive for the ballpark that had all of one game played in it at the time.”
Guillen returned early from the Marlins’ first road trip to apologize to Miami’s Cuban population, but many in the organization felt the episode set the tone for what turned out to be the most disappointing season in franchise history.
After struggling through April with an 8-14 record, the Marlins were 21-8 in May, the most wins in any month in franchise history. But the season quickly went into a tailspin.
Along the way, Guillen clashed with relief pitcher Heath Bell, who was traded Saturday. Guillen also sparked complaints by some people in the organization who disapproved of his constant cursing, the clubhouse presence of his three adult sons and his dismissive comments about his job security (“I got my money.”).
Said Beinfest: “When you lose at the magnitude that we lost, there is going to be a lot of frustration at a lot of different levels.”
The Marlins will pay Guillen the $7.5 million he is owed for the three years left on his contract. That’s why their next manager could be someone with little experience who won’t command top dollar.
Beinfest, citing the successes of first-year managers Mike Matheny of St. Louis and Robin Ventura of the White Sox, said the Marlins won’t rule out a candidate with no managing experience.
“Those are good examples in Matheny and Ventura,” Beinfest said. “They both had terrific years and they came right off from retirement into those jobs.”
Under Loria, the Marlins have had just one manager who lasted for at least three consecutive seasons – Fredi Gonzalez (2007-June 2010).
“Ideally, yes, it would be outstanding to have a manager down there for a number of years and win,” Beinfest said.
But he said he did not think the constant turnover will scare away potential candidates.
“As bad as things were, there’s a lot of things going for us here. We have this beautiful new building. We have some really good young talent. I would think this would be very attractive to a lot of people,” Beinfest said.
Recent Marlins managers
Ozzie Guillen was the least successful of the club’s four managers in three seasons:
Name; Year(s); W-L; Pct.
Fredi Gonzalez; 2007-10; 276-279; .497
Edwin Rodriguez; 2010-11; 78-85; .479
Jack McKeon; 2011; 40-50; .444
Ozzie Guillen; 2012; 69-93; .426