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Pirates cut ties with manager Tracy

Pirates cut ties with manager Tracy

PITTSBURGH -- New Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington continued his house cleaning process on Friday, relieving manager Jim Tracy of his duties. Huntington also dismissed senior director of player development Brian Graham, senior director of scouting Ed Creech and director of baseball operations Jon Mercurio.

"This is a very difficult day as a professional," Huntington said. "This is a very difficult day for me as a person. These decisions are never easy. Since my appointment as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates we've undergone an exhaustive review of what is here, who we are, what we do, who is in place, what's good and unfortunately in some situations what's not so good.

"After that gathering of information -- we took a very systematic approach to analyzing that information -- after analyzing that information and accessing that information it became very clear to me that we needed some change. If we are going to successfully implement our philosophies, our vision and our system we needed to change the leadership. We needed to change the direction of our baseball operations department."

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The 51-year-old Tracy was named Pittsburgh's manager on Oct. 21, 2005. Tracy posted a 135-189 record (.417 winning percentage) in his two seasons with the Pirates. He guided the Bucs to a 67-95 record in 2006 and a 68-94 record in 2007 as the team lost 13 of its last 15 games. In his seven years as a Major League manager, Tracy has posted a 562-572 record (.496 winning percentage).

Graham, 47, spent the past six seasons overseeing Pittsburgh's Minor League system after being hired on Dec. 3, 2001. Mercurio, 42, completed his 20th season with the Pirates organization, his 12th as a member of the baseball operations staff. Creech, 55, spent the last six seasons with Pittsburgh after being named the club's scouting director on Nov. 20, 2001.

The Pirates also announced that assistant general manager Doug Strange will now serve the club as a special assistant to Huntington.

"I believe Doug has a quality background and is a quality person." Huntington stated. "His experience as a player, his experience as an amateur evaluator, as an evaluator of professional talent and his front office experience will be a perfect complement to me and to the other special assistants currently with the Pittsburgh Pirates."

Huntington had a prior relationship with Tracy, Graham and Creech and said that made this a very difficult process.

"Stepping back to the four individuals who will no longer be here," Huntington said. "Three of them I have personal relationships with going back 13, 14, 16 years. As a general manager you're going to have to make difficult decisions. Going forward I had to make the decision that I felt was right for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I respect them as professionals, I respect them as family men, and I respect them as baseball men. I want to thank them for their time and energy, their commitment to trying to do the right thing for this organization and I certainly wish them nothing but success in their future endeavors."

Huntington would not set a timetable for the search process in replacing the manager or the other openings.

"I think it will fall into place as we do our research," Huntington said. "As we identify the available candidates, to me I think the assistant general manager is going to be a very important hire because he or she can help me as we move forward in the other process and the other decisions that we have to make. That won't prohibit us if the right candidate is there and if we go through the research and interviews and if there's a candidate that we need to move on then we can move. We're not going to tie ourselves up by waiting for somebody to become available. We're going to make sure we do the process the right way and that we identify the right talent and bring them in.

"I'm not married to a date -- we need to do our research and our homework and when the right candidate presents himself, we will know it."

No decisions were made on the rest of Tracy's coaching staff: pitching coach Jim Colborn, hitting coach Jeff Manto, first-base coach John Shelby, third-base coach Jeff Cox, bench coach Jim Lett and bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar. All have contracts that expire at the end of this month.

"We're not going to stand in anyone's way who wishes to leave on the Major League coaching staff," Huntington said. "We will not stand in anyone's way. What we will hope is that they will communicate with us if they have another opportunity -- then at that point in time we'll have to address their situation. What we do not want to do is treat these people with disrespect -- we do not want this process to drag out through the month of October and them to wind up without a job. We want to make sure that they have every opportunity to secure employment for 2008 season."

As the season ended, Tracy had expressed his desire to be given the opportunity to finish out the final year of his contract with the Pirates. However, he was also well aware that, in the end, the wins and losses would likely dictate management's decision.

"I started with this job a year ago and have been at this job for less than two years," Tracy said. "If moving forward, I am the guy that he wants to continue to manage this club, that's exactly what I want to do. If they have other plans and decide to go in a different direction, that's their choice."

Several names are swirling as possible candidates to replace Tracy.

Huntington may look to Cleveland, the organization with which he spent the past 10 years. Indians third-base coach Joel Skinner, who does have previous managerial experience, seems a likely candidate. Skinner managed 76 games as an interim manager for the Indians back in 2002 and also spent six years as a manager in the Minors.

If Huntington looks within the organization, the names of both Trent Jewitt, the Pirates' Triple-A Indianapolis manager, and Pirates color analyst Bob Walk may surface.

Former managers who played for the Pirates may be on the radar -- those include former Oakland manager Ken Macha and former Houston manager Phil Garner. Other former Pirates that are coaching may be on the list. They include Detroit first-base coach Andy Van Slyke and Arizona bench coach Jay Bell.

What are the qualities that Huntington is seeking in a manager?

"Philosophically I'm looking for a manager with energy," Huntington explained. "I'm looking for a manager with passion, I'm looking for a manager that is a tireless instructor, I'm looking for a manager that's going to instill some discipline, I'm looking for a manager that's an exhaustive communicator and I'm looking for a manager that wants to return the pride to the Pittsburgh Pirates -- not only externally but internally. How we wear the uniform, how we present ourselves within that uniform and how we play the game."

George Von Benko is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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