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Knight’s fiery style leads to firing

July 25, 1997

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Ray Knight was fired as the Cincinnati Reds’ manager because he failed to win games and his players’ respect.

With the team out of contention and the clubhouse bristling over Knight’s confrontational style, the Reds decided Friday to replace him with Jack McKeon, who will bring a more player-friendly approach to the job for the rest of this season.

``I hate to go out like this, but that’s just not the way life is,″ Knight said as he packed his car to leave the stadium Friday night. ``You can’t choose your spots.

``It boils down to being able to get your players to play. If mine were resentful for whatever reason, I treated them like men. ... Nobody in that clubhouse wanted to win more than I did, and maybe my intensity rubbed some people the wrong way.″

McKeon, 66, managed in the major leagues for eight years, most recently with San Diego in 1990, and has been a Reds advisor for the past five seasons. The Reds think his style is a better fit for their younger players, who will move to the forefront with the team 9 1/2 games back in the NL Central.

``I’m a very patient guy,″ McKeon said. ``I’m a low-key guy. I’m not going to throw any water coolers or kick any dugouts. I don’t think I will _ occasionally I’ve done it.″

Knight, in the second and final year of his contact, did it all during his brief tenure. He was suspended for flinging third base during an argument with an umpire this season, had a public feud with pitcher Mike Morgan and made himself a third-base coach temporarily as the team struggled.

No matter what he did, the team failed to respond. The Reds were 81-81 last season and 43-56 when he was called to the office Friday by general manager Jim Bowden.

Knight’s intensity, his impatience and his propensity to blame players for mistakes and take credit for successes led to a strained relationship with the clubhouse. Knight suggested Friday that team captain Barry Larkin and others had talked to the front office about replacing him.

``I heard a lot of stuff,″ Knight said. ``I hope it’s not them, but now it looks like maybe it was.″

Larkin wasn’t surprised by the firing, but denied he talked to Bowden about Knight.

``I didn’t make this happen,″ Larkin said. ``No player on this team made this happen. When a team doesn’t do well, you either change the people on the team or the person running the team. So a change was going to happen.

``A change needed to be made. They chose to change the manager.″

Bowden said no players spoke to him about firing Knight.

``We wanted to try to get through the season (with Knight) if we could,″ Bowden said. ``I really wanted Ray to work out. He had the incident with Morgan, but a player can’t dictate when you make a managerial change.

``In New York (last weekend), we lost four in a row and the situation kept getting worse. We felt that in order to build something for next year with our younger players, we needed a different leadership style.″

In addition to patience, McKeon has one other thing that Knight lacked _ experience.

Knight made his baseball reputation as the guy who replaced Pete Rose at third base for the Reds in 1979. But his best moment came with the New York Mets, when he hit .391 and was the MVP of their World Series victory over Boston in 1986. Knight scored the winning run in Game 6 on Bill Buckner’s infamous error.

He retired after hitting .217 for Detroit in 1988, and was a baseball analyst with ESPN when Davey Johnson added him to the coaching staff in 1993.

McKeon becomes the Reds’ fifth manager in six years and the fourth since 1993, when Bowden fired Tony Perez only 44 games into the season. Like Perez, Knight had never managed at any level.

Knight got the job because owner Marge Schott never took a liking to Johnson, who replaced Perez and led the club to the playoffs. Johnson went to Baltimore, which has been one of the AL’s top clubs all season.

Schott turned management decisions over to John Allen last year to end the latest flap over her inflammatory statements. Allen approved of Bowden’s decision to fire Knight.

``I don’t think you ever plan on wanting to have a lot of managers,″ Bowden said. ``I think you ideally like to have one and just keep him in the organization for 30 years. Unfortunately, your plans don’t always work out as you’d like them to.″

The budget-conscious Reds wanted someone from within the organization to replace Knight for the rest of the season. McKeon is not sure whether he would stay on beyond that even if the club is interested.

McKeon managed Kansas City from 1973-75, Oakland in 1977-78 and San Diego from 1988-90. He also was the Padres’ general manager from 1980-90, and evaluated the Reds’ minor-league talent for the last five years.

McKeon considered Bowden’s offer of the interim job for about an hour before accepting.

``I’ve always liked managing,″ he said. ``It makes me feel younger. You get more enthusiasm. And it’s a heck of a lot better than being out on the road scouting, sitting in those hotels all day. That was the toughest part of this job _ being lonesome. At least I can come to the ballpark and smoke my cigar or something.″

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