Baseball

Blue Jays fire Buck Martinez

Three straight wins weren't enough to save Buck Martinez's job.

On Monday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that Martinez has been relieved of his duties as the club's manager.

Replacing Martinez as Jays manager is third base coach Carlos Tosca.

"I would like to go on record as saying that I consider Buck Martinez a friend, he's a class act. He handled this in a very professional manner," Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told the media gathered at SkyDome for a news conference.

"But with that being said, I felt it was time the club had a change in direction and we feel with (Tosca) we'll be able to get to those goals, which is to be a better club in September."

The 48-year-old Tosca, according to Ricciardi, has "paid his dues," having managed for 17 seasons in the minor leagues.

But unlike Martinez, and Jim Fregosi before him, Tosca never played in the majors.

Last year, Tosca managed the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A team in Richmond. He has a 932-827 overall record as a minor league manager. He joined the Jays in December, less than a month after Ricciardi was named GM.

Tosca began his managing career with New York Yankees organization. He also worked for the Royals and Marlins and spent three seasons as bench coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks under Buck Showalter.

Rumours about the precariousness of Martinez's tenure surfaced late last month, when a Toronto newspaper published reports that the Jays' brass was unhappy with his performance.

Speculation that Martinez would be fired intensified when the Jays were swept in back-to-back series at the SkyDome last week.

But after the Jays won three straight against the Detroit Tigers over the weekend, it appeared that Martinez had earmed at least a temporary reprieve.

The wins improved the Jays to 20-33 on the season -- the fourth-worst record in the majors.

Ricciardi said there was no good time to make a move like this, adding the he'd all but made up his mind about Martinez future Friday, prior to the sweep in Detroit.

"The decision wasn't based on the three-game win streak or a six-game losing streak," Ricciardi explained.

"The decision was based on a three-month period on being around Buck on a day-to-day basis, spending time with him, going over ideas and thoughts.

"I don't think it was a knee-jerk reaction on my part. I think this is the right time for us to go forward and make the move."

Martinez was hired in November 2000 to replace Fregosi by team president Paul Godfrey and former general manager Gord Ash.

Skeptics suggested the appointment was as much about publicity as baseball.

It was argued that the new Jays owners, telecommunications giant Rogers Communications, wanted a recognizable face at the helm to help sell the struggling franchise to fans.

Martinez spent six seasons in the 80s as a catcher in the Jays' organization. Already a fan favourite, Martinez became more popular in retirement.

In 1989, Martinez took a job on TSN's Blue Jays telecasts. Martinez started working with ESPN in a similar capacity starting in 1992, and his sharp wit and keen analysis soon made him among the most respected broadcasters in the game.

But while Martinez could boast 17 seasons as a player and more than a decade as a TV commentator, he had no managerial or coaching experience when he took the Jays job.

After leading the team to an 80-82 record in his first season, Martinez admitted not realizing how tough a job managing in the majors would be.

"Coming in as a manager at the major league level is a tremendous challenge," he said as spring training wrapped up this March.

"And not having any managerial experience, any coaching experience at any level, I didn't realize what a difficult task that was."

Martinez's job security also became an issue prior to the start of the season when Ricciardi was named the Jays GM last November.

Ricciardi quickly made moves to reshape the club. He traded closer Billy Koch to Oakland for Eric Hinske. Alex Gonzalez, Brad Fullmer and Paul Quantrill were also moved. Youngsters like Felipe Lopez, Vernon Wells and Hinske were given starting jobs.

It was also thought the housecleaning would extend to the manager's office. The feeling was that Ricciardi would replace Martinez with his own hand-picked manager and sever all ties to the Ash era of Blue Jays baseball.

In addition to firing Martinez, Ricciardi also axed first base coach Garth Iorg, a former player with the team. Bullpen coach John Gibbons takes over for Iorg while Brian Butterfield, fired May 16 as manager of the triple-A Columbus Clippers, joins the Jays as third base coach.

Toronto's coaching shuffle came just a hours before the Jays opened a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- one of the few teams in the majors with a poorer record than Toronto.