PHOENIX (AP) — The one-time rising young genius of baseball and his youthful hand-picked manager got the boot in Arizona.
General manager Josh Byrnes, so coveted three years ago that the Diamondbacks extended his contract to a whopping eight years, was fired Thursday night along with manager A.J. Hinch, whose team was 34 games under .500 in his less than one full season on the job.
Kirk Gibson, a name as recognizable to fans as Hinch's was obscure, moves up from bench coach to become interim manager. Former major league pitcher Jerry DiPoto moves from vice president of player personnel to interim general manager.
The shakeup came as the Diamondbacks entered a 10-game home stand cemented in last place in the NL West for the second season in a row, 15 games behind first-place San Diego.
At a news conference Friday, managing partner Ken Kendrick said the firings came after a 30-day review of the entire organization.
"The evaluation that we made basically drew us to a conclusion that a change was necessary," he said, "hopefully to bring a new energy to the club and to the organization."
Team president Derrick Hall said the baseball operations department needed new leadership.
"There's been a lot of underperforming," Hall said. "I think we all know that. I think the players would be the first to tell you that they've underperformed."
The baseball department needed the changes at the top before any decisions are made on player trades, Hall said.
"We made it clear all along we don't want to blow this up," he said. "This isn't a complete makeover. We have to tweak here and there, and I think with new leadership we can make those decisions now and see if they respond differently."
Kendrick and Hall acknowledged that the team's massive number of strikeouts and the awful bullpen figured in the decision. Kendrick said the team's farm system needs improvement.
Hinch, 36, is the fourth manager to lose his job this season. Florida's Fredi Gonzalez, Baltimore's Dave Trembley and Kansas City's Trey Hillman have also been fired.
Kendrick said he and everyone else running the team must take responsibility for the failures.
"We all need to look in the mirror when things don't go well," he said. "... We've made some good decisions, but we have made some bad ones."
Gibson brings a tough, old-school baseball attitude to his new job.
"He has a great resume," Kendrick said. "He has a passion for the game that was demonstrated in the way he played it and we expect that will come through now that he has the position of leadership that the manager's title carries."
Gibson and DiPoto will have a chance to earn their new jobs beyond this season, Hall said.
Gibson hit .268 with 255 home runs, 870 RBIs and 284 stolen bases in 17 seasons as a major league outfielder with Detroit, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. He is best remembered for one of the game's most dramatic home runs.
Gibson was the Dodgers' team leader and NL MVP in the 1988 regular season, but injuries to both legs kept him on the bench when the World Series against Oakland began.
In Game 1, barely able to walk, Gibson came to the plate as a pinch hitter in the ninth and hit Dennis Eckersley's 0-2 pitch into the right field seats of Dodger Stadium to give Los Angeles a 5-4 victory. He limped around the bases, pumping his fist in triumph, as broadcaster Jack Buck uttered his famous "I don't believe what I just saw!"
Gibson was the Tigers' bench coach from 2003-2005 and joined then-Arizona manager Bob Melvin's staff in the same capacity in 2007.
He takes over a team on pace to shatter the major league strikeout record and with a bullpen, with an ERA just under 7.00, that ranks among the worst the game has ever known.
After a 70-92 finish last season, Hinch confidently said "I like this team" coming out of spring training this year. Quickly, though, the Diamondbacks faded. At one time, they lost 10 in a row, including a franchise-worst 0-9 road trip. When the club returned from that awful journey, Hinch acknowledged, "This group hasn't responded that well to me."
The Stanford graduate, a backup catcher for part of seven major league seasons, was 89-123 in not quite 14 months as Arizona's fifth manager.
Byrnes, now 40, was just two years out of Haverford College when he went to work in the Cleveland Indians front office in 1994. He followed Dan O'Dowd to Colorado as assistant general manager in 1999, then became assistant to Boston GM Theo Epstein in 2002. In 2005, at age 35, Byrnes became general manager of the Diamondbacks.
In just two years, Arizona — loaded with young talent from its farm system — had the best record in the NL and advanced to the NLCS. Byrnes was one of the hottest names in the game, mentioned for a number of other general manager jobs. That led the Diamondbacks to sign him to an eight-year extension that runs through 2015.
In 2008, Arizona led the NL West for most of the season only to fade down the stretch. The franchise never has recovered.
The Diamondbacks fired Melvin in May 2009 and replaced him with Hinch, the team's vice president for player personnel. Just shy of his 35th birthday, Hinch had never even been a base coach at any level, let alone a manager.
But Byrnes touted the new manager's "organizational advocacy."