A bit more on Joe Kerrigan’s firing

I’ve always been interested in the composition of John Russell’s coaching staff. Some guys, like Gary Varsho and Tony Beasley, obviously intersected with JR at some point in his career (Varsho was the Phillies’ bench coach when Russell was their Triple-A manager, Beasley a minor league manager when Russell was third base coach) while others, like Lou Frazier, Joe Kerrigan, and Perry Hill, intersected with Neal Huntington (all in Montreal, though I’m not positive of how long Hill spent there and so I don’t know if he crossed over with Huntington).

It seemed a little strange to me that there was a chance the whole staff wasn’t hired by Russell. Jim Tracy brought almost his entire staff with him from LA. Jim Leyland’s coaching staff in Detroit is chock-full of his ex-players. Of course, it’s also possible that not every coach is as nepotistic as Tracy and Leyland (very possible, actually) and that Huntington was simply suggesting some guys that he knew for positions that Russell needed to fill. That makes some sense; as a new manager one thing Russell has to do is build that staff up. Still, from the start I suspected that Kerrigan was more Huntington’s hire than Russell’s. And now, by all accounts, he’s been fired by Russell. What does that mean, exactly?

To be honest, I’m not sure it means much more than what it strongly implies; Neal Huntington trusts John Russell and there were problems with Kerrigan and Varsho, so they were fired. That’s really not all that hard to believe. Kerrigan’s well-regarded, yes, but when the Pirates hired him I seem to recall reading that his personality was a problem both with the Phillies and Yankees (and now I can’t for the life of me find links to stories about his firing from either place because there are 26 pages on Google filled with stories about the Pirates firing him and because the Philadelphia Inquirer’s search function keeps giving me Javascript errors like it’s 1996 and I’m using IE3 or something). Remember that just two months ago, FanHouse’s Ed Price reported that if John Russell were to be fired, Kerrigan wanted to manage the club.

I’m not trying to demonize Kerrigan because I think he’s a jerk here; he obviously did some good work in Pittsburgh. Ross Ohlendorf came a long way last year and he’s not nearly as bad as his record suggests this year. Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan progressed by leaps and bounds in 2009 and 2010. But it’s been hit or miss, though, with guys like Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln struggling pretty mightily this year. Is that because an analytical guy like Ohlendorf takes well to his approach and a slightly wonky guy like Morton or a young guy like Lincoln doesn’t? I don’t know. Hell, I don’t even know if Lincoln and Morton’s struggles were his fault, but Lincoln’s demotion and Kerrigan’s subsequent firing sure seems to suggest the Pirates thought they were.

It’s also clear that whatever Russell didn’t like was considered to be an urgent problem. After Saturday’s win, the club could’ve easily left Kerrigan and Varsho in the dugout on Sunday and quietly dismissed them Monday morning before leaving for San Diego. They didn’t do that, though. The canned them when they got back to the park on Sunday and then had to immediately face the media and talk about something other than the club’s best win of the season. I know some people have said “if they have to go they have to go,” but they really didn’t have to go until Monday unless Russell insisted that the team not wait even another minute.

In the end, Kerrigan’s results in Pittsburgh were mixed regardless of his reputation. I thought he did a good job last year, but Morton’s struggles and what I read through my TV as a cold relationship between Morton and Kerrigan (based on nothing but observation of how Kerrigan handled Morton during their many mound visits and how long Kerrigan waited to talk to Morton whenever he did get into trouble) made me start to wonder if Kerrigan was the right guy for the Pirates’ job. Fair or not, it’s obvious now that the team doesn’t think he is.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.