New York Steve Phillips was fired Thursday as general manager of the listless New York Mets, a last-place team stuck with a lot of highly paid players who failed to produce.
With the Mets banged-up, booed at Shea Stadium and nowhere near the team that reached the 2000 World Series, owner Fred Wilpon called Phillips into his office. Phillips became the first GM in the majors to be fired this season.
"I wouldn't say he was surprised," Wilpon said. "It wasn't a long conversation."
Wilpon said he had been thinking about making the move "for a long time."
"I believe this is the right time to do it," he said. "The start of this season has been very disappointing."
In a statement handed out by the Mets during their game at Texas, Phillips said "it is with much disappointment that I leave, but it is also with a sense of excitement and curiosity of what the future will bring."
"I wish the organization nothing but the best in the future and hope that much success is found very soon," he said.
Senior assistant general manager Jim Duquette took over on an interim basis through the end of the season and will be a candidate for the permanent position. Other names will surely be in the mix, with former Mets executive and current Montreal GM Omar Minaya certain to be prominent.
Duquette is the cousin of former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette.
"When I envisioned getting the role as the GM, this wasn't really the way that I envisioned it," he said in Texas, where the Mets were to play the Rangers. "It's a mixed feeling for me right now. It's unsettling, not overly gratifying."
A former infielder drafted by the Mets in 1981 ahead of Roger Clemens, Phillips took over as GM July 16, 1997, and brought a lot of big names to Shea -- Mike Piazza, Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn and Mike Hampton, among them. But not all of those moves worked out the way Phillips hoped.
"We all realize that if we were playing well and in first place, nobody is going to lose their job," Glavine said. "Nobody came into this season envisioning this would happen. Circumstances are what they are for any number of reasons."
Floundering at 28-35 despite the second-highest payroll in the majors, Wilpon vowed things would "heat up" as the July 31 trading deadline approached. Alomar may be among the first to go -- there's been speculation about a deal to send the slumping second baseman to Boston.
"I don't know what they're thinking," Alomar said. "They haven't moved one player. They moved the GM. We have to wait and see what happens."
Mets' first-year manager Art Howe spoke briefly to Phillips by phone.
"We all realize what this business is all about and I think he had an inkling that something like this might happen," Howe said.
Wilpon said he asked Phillips to consider a future role with the team. A call to Phillips' cell phone was not returned.
Though Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine did not always agree, the Mets reached postseason play in consecutive seasons for the first time ever, culminated by their loss to the Yankees in the five-game Subway Series in 2000.
Phillips' tenure was marked by trades and free-agent signings that brought All-Stars to the Mets. But with a huge payroll to work with, he also obtained several high-salaried players who did not contribute a lot -- Vaughn, Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeno, for example.
A big payroll "doesn't ensure that you're going to win," Wilpon said. "We've learned that painfully."
Phillips also was criticized for cutting off contract talks with free agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez before the 2001 season. A-Rod eventually signed a $252 million, 10-year deal with Texas.
Plus, there were plenty of off-the-field problems, with the lowlight perhaps being the report that at least seven players used marijuana during a last-place finish in 2002.
Phillips signed a three-year contract at the end of the 2000 season. But when Valentine was fired after last season's 75-86 record in the NL East, Phillips was not given a contract extension.
The team had hoped to improve with Howe and several high-profile signings, including Glavine and Cliff Floyd. The team began the year with a payroll of $116.9 million, trailing only the Yankees' $149.7 million.
But injuries to Piazza, Vaughn, Glavine, Pedro Astacio and others got in the way, and the Mets stumbled.