Coaches Wallace, Jackson dismissed

Coaches Wallace, Jackson dismissed

BOSTON -- The fallout from the disappointing 2006 season began on Monday, when pitching coach Dave Wallace and batting coach Ron Jackson were dismissed, hours after the club finished in third place in the American League East after leading at the All-Star break.

General manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, who met the media in Francona's office the day after the regular season ended, insisted that the two coaches should not be seen as scapegoats for what happened to the club. But with Francona now armed with a contract extension and Epstein solid after leaving the GM's role and then coming back, the axe fell on the coaches.

The Red Sox finished 12th in the 14-team American League in batting average (.269, down from an AL-best .281 in 2005) and sixth in runs scored (825, way down from a league-high 910 in '05). The pitching ranked 11th, with a 4.83 ERA (up slightly from last year's 4.74).

Wallace was aware of the decision last week, and Jackson found out on Sunday.

Epstein said that the decision on Wallace, who endured a very difficult season, healthwise, was mutual. The decision on Jackson was not.

When the smoke cleared on Monday, the only coaches set to return in their same roles next season were bench coach Brad Mills and third-base coach DeMarlo Hale.

First-base coach Bill Haselman may or may not return, depending on whether he wants to start a Minor League managing career, either with the Red Sox or with another team.

Al Nipper, who served as interim pitching coach while Wallace missed half the season after hip-replacement surgery and remained with the club after Wallace returned, is a candidate for the pitching coach job -- or he could go back to being either the bullpen coach or a Minor League coordinator. Ralph Truel, who replaced Nipper as bullpen coach, doesn't have an assignment for next season.

But after the pitching staff went steadily downhill and the hitters, with the notable exception of David Ortiz, struggled down the stretch, Wallace and Jackson were gone.

Francona explained the changes by saying, "I think the best way to say it is, maybe a different voice in the future would, we think, work. Saying that ... Please don't write that I think it's their fault, OK? What happens on the field is my direct responsibility, but sometimes with that responsibility you do feel it's necessary to, like I said, have a new voice, a different voice. It's not a very fun decision to make, and I know Theo was very helpful and listened to me talk a lot, and we talked a lot of things over, in depth, and it's still not a very fun decision to make.

"Papa Jack is one of the nicest men I've ever been around. Dave Wallace is one of my closest friends. But those are the decisions that we came to."

Added Epstein: "With Wally, we met and talked about the state of our pitching performance and talked about trying to create an environment where pitchers can come and thrive, and the different adjustments that I felt we needed to make in all aspects of our pitching operation -- from how we scout pitchers, how we evaluate them, how we acquire them, how we support them once they're here. And, as Tito said, it's my responsibility as a leader of the baseball operation to try to make adjustments in a lot of places when we're not happy with the results. Wally and I had a long talk, and it was a mutual decision in the end that it was best to go in different directions and to bring in a new voice to try to accomplish those things."

Neither Wallace nor Jackson has been offered a position in the organization.

"Not as of now," said Epstein, who said he was "convinced Papa Jack is going to be a Major League hitting coach again, probably by next season. His offense has led all of Major League Baseball in scoring runs three out of the last four years, he's got a great reputation that he's earned and deserves. I expect him to be a Major League hitting coach very soon."

Epstein said that the organization is not looking for a different hitting style, just a different coach.

"That was my decision," Francona said. "And this is a little bit of a touchy subject because I just stated, and I believe it, I don't want Papa Jack ... I don't want anybody to be relatively close to being a scapegoat for our lack of wins. That's how I feel.

"At the same time, when you're in my position, every coach has a specific area that they handle, and there's a way that I want it to be handled, and I have to have 100 percent confidence that it will be handled like that. I'm uncomfortable, somewhat, in talking about this because I have such a high regard for Papa Jack. I just felt it was time to make a change.

"We have some resources here with the Red Sox I want to make sure we take full advantage of."

Ironically, Wallace was brought in three years ago when then-pitching coach Tony Cloninger was stricken with cancer. Nipper, who had worked with the young pitchers in the system, came onboard when Wallace suffered his health woes, and now could inherit Wallace's job.

"I think we have an obligation to open up and look around at what is available, who is available, and Nip is certainly right in that mix -- and that's what we told him," Francona said.

In another coaching move, Epstein said that the Sox had hired Victor Rodriguez to be the Minor League hitting coordinator.

Mike Shalin is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.