ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) _ Buck Showalter was fired as manager of the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, ending four seasons in which he was never able to get a team with several young All-Stars above third place in the AL West.

Texas was 80-82 this season, its sixth losing record in seven years since last making the playoffs in 1999. Showalter was 319-329 with the Rangers, his third managerial job, and still had three seasons left on his contract.

``You never heard me make an excuse all year, and I'm not going to start now. We just didn't get it done,'' Showalter told The Associated Press in a phone interview. ``They want to go in a new direction with a new voice. With the shelf life of managers, I feel fortunate.''

Showalter was the AL manager of the year only two years ago, when AL MVP Alex Rodriguez was traded in the spring and the Rangers went on to contend for a playoff spot until the final few games of the season.

``Buck has been a tremendous asset to this organization,'' general manager Jon Daniels said. ``He worked hard both on and off the field with the best interests of the Rangers in mind. However, we thought it best at this time for a fresh perspective.''

The Rangers were 89-73 in 2004, the fourth-best record in team history and an 18-win improvement over 2003. They finished only three games back in the AL West, but still in third place behind the division-winning Angels and Oakland.

But the Rangers couldn't build off the momentum of that unexpected playoff chase. They backtracked last year with 79 victories, and were only one game better than that this season.

Showalter is the fifth manager to lose his job since the end of the regular season, joining Joe Girardi (Florida), Dusty Baker (Chicago Cubs), Frank Robinson (Washington) and Felipe Alou (San Francisco).

Girardi, the potential NL manager of the year and a candidate to replace Baker in Chicago, could also be pursued by the Rangers. Current bench coach Don Wakamatsu and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo could be candidates as well.

Showalter's ouster came the day after owner Tom Hicks had dinner at his home with Daniels, his 29-year-old general manager, and Showalter for what Hicks said would be a ``candid conversation'' about what went wrong this season.

``I have the utmost respect for Buck Showalter,'' Hicks said Wednesday. ``He is extraordinarily committed to the game of baseball, and he has been an excellent representative of the Texas Rangers.''

Hicks said before the meeting he wasn't leaning either way on Showalter's future, and would rely on a recommendation from Daniels, the youngest GM ever in the majors when he was hired a year ago.

Daniels accompanied the team on its final road trip last week, partly to talk to players and determine if clubhouse discontentment with Showalter was widespread.

The 50-year-old Showalter, whose contract was extended after the 2005 season, is still owed $5 million to $6 million by the Rangers. His overall record is 882-833, including four seasons with the New York Yankees (1992-95) and three in Arizona (1998-00).

The Yankees and Diamondbacks won the World Series the season after Showalter's tenure ended. The Arizona championship in 2001 ended the Yankees' run of three titles in four years.

``They're on an upswing,'' Showalter said of the Rangers.

Texas this season spent more than two months atop the AL West despite never being more than six games above .500, then were out of first place for good a week after the All-Star break. The Rangers had a losing record at home (39-42) for the first time since 1997.

Showalter's replacement will inherit a roster that includes three-time All-Star shortstop Michael Young, switch-hitting slugger and Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira, two-time All-Star third baseman Hank Blalock, closer Akinori Otsuka and Kevin Millwood, the No. 1 starting pitcher with four years left on his contract.

``I had choices to make and chose Arlington. I would do the same thing over again,'' Showalter said. ``These are good people. I had a heck of a seat the last four years, watching Mike Young and these guys play every day.''

The Rangers also have nine potential free agents, including Carlos Lee, the two-time All-Star outfielder acquired from Milwaukee before the trade deadline in late July.

Other likely free agents include Gary Matthews Jr., the All-Star center fielder and leadoff hitter who had a breakout season, six-position starter Mark DeRosa, catcher Rod Barajas, and starting pitchers Vicente Padilla and Adam Eaton.

It's unlikely the Rangers will keep all their potential free agents, unless Hicks is willing to significantly increase this season's $68 million payroll.

Lee was traded only after he turned down a four-year extension worth at least $48 million from the Brewers, and Matthews could at least triple his $2.3 million salary. DeRosa is a free agent for the first time, and Padilla is a 15-game winner available in what is expected to be a sparse market for quality starters.