That the Pirates fired two coaches yesterday is hardly shocking. They’re the Pirates; these things happen.
At first, it was thought to be a step toward the eventual ouster of manager John Russell. Then it came out that Russell was behind the dismissals . . . as were baseball’s unwritten rules.
Russell refused to discuss his motivation for sacking pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho, beyond platitudes that there were “some issues that I felt we needed to change,” and that he “lost two friends.”
A motivating factor could easily have been Kerrigan’s on-field performance—hope for Pirates pitchers was never high, and they’ve still managed to underperform—but there appears to be more to the story.
The firings, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, were a matter of loyalty—or lack thereof: “Several players and others inside the team described scenes on recent road trips to Texas, Oakland and St. Louis where Kerrigan and Varsho either were openly critical of Russell or having mini-meetings with some coaches or players away from Russell.”
It’s not like this is new territory for Kerrigan. Baseball’s Code warns that there’s a mole on nearly every team, someone who carries sensitive information to the front-office and, as an occasionally unintended consequence, poisons clubhouse relationships.
According to multiple sources, Kerrigan is such a coach. In Joe Torre‘s book “The Yankee Years,” writer Tom Verducci identified issues within the New York clubhouse during Kerrigan’s tenure as bullpen coach:
(Torre) knew Kerrigan was connected to the front office by way of (GM Brian) Cashman, and word reached Torre that Kerrigan was having private conversations with Cashman about the team and Torre. One staff member even said Cashman had telephoned Kerrigan during a game.
Also in the book was the assertion that Kerrigan had “confrontations with players in just about every stop of his baseball life, including Philadelphia, Boston and the Yankees.”
Hall of Fame baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby wrote that Kerrigan was “a clubhouse mole when he was on the coaching staff in Montreal, Boston and Baltimore.” It’s possibly what led to his rise to the Red Sox managerial office after Jimy Williams was fired in mid-2001.
And this, from InsidePittsburghSports.com: “One veteran front-office executive said this of Kerrigan upon his hiring by the Pirates, ‘John Russell better have his head on a swivel because he has a manager killer on his staff now. Joe Kerrigan might be the biggest backstabber in baseball.’ ”
Kerrigan brings an intense devotion to film study and numbers-crunching to his coaching, traits that can be appealing to a general manager looking to balance out a staff heavy in more traditional baseball men. Even more enticing, perhaps, is the opportunity to have a reliable ear to the ground.
At some point, however, the question shifts to the cost one is willing to pay for information gained. Among other things, it helped lead to Torre’s departure from the Yankees.
Pirates GM Neil Neal Huntington backed Russell’s decision, clearly too late to salvage any hope of respectability for the Pirates and their young nucleus this season.
In this case, however, the focus is on next year. The quickest path to a clean slate is to wipe clean the messiest smudges.