When the Seattle Mariners fired manager John McLaren at 9 a.m. on Thursday, he turned to the executives and friends who had just taken his dream job away _ and laughed.
"We could have done this at three in the morning and done it right," a chuckling McLaren told interim general manager Lee Pelekoudas and team president Chuck Armstrong.
He was referring to the Mets firing manager Willie Randolph earlier this week at that ghoulish hour, New York time.
The Mariners have their own horrors. They were 25-47 and 17 1/2 games out of the AL West lead going into promoted bench coach Jim Riggleman's debut Friday night. They are on track to become the first team with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games.
A disappointed but far-from-bitter McLaren thanked everyone from team CEO Howard Lincoln to clubhouse attendants and the media Friday. He said he deserves a second chance to manage, but not until "I get my feet back on the ground" away from the game this summer.
"For whatever reason, I've still got confidence in myself," said the major league assistant of 21 1/2 years, who was 68-88 in less than 12 months as manager.
McLaren, speaking by telephone from his home in Peoria, Ariz., said tension and jealousy among players in the fractured clubhouse contributed to Seattle going from supposed contenders to the worst team in the majors in three months.
"A little divided, pitchers against hitters," he said, adding the team's season-long woes on offense caused the turmoil.
Starting pitcher Carlos Silva provided a glimpse of that on June 4 following his sixth consecutive loss.
"One thing in here is, I know everybody has to do their own job, but don't forget it's a team. A lot of people in here play for themselves," Silva said then. "Like, 'If I get my two hits, it's OK. That's my day. I made my day.'"
Then again, any hitter would be free to question Silva's contributions. Signed to a $48 million contract last winter, Silva is 3-8 with a 5.79 ERA in 15 starts.
McLaren emphasized he wasn't pointing out the rift to deflect criticism from himself but offer advice to the players on how to turn around their flopping team.
"I think there is a little friction and tension in there, a little jealousy," McLaren said. "I think the players have to (fix) it on their own.
"Sometimes we get caught up in our own world. This is a team sport. I think there are some issues in there and if they take care of them, they will get to where they want to go."
McLaren said he tried many approaches to solving the clubhouse's corroding chemistry. He tried coddling. He tried team meetings. He tried berating _ most infamously a 45-second tirade filled with profanities on that fateful June 4, which lives on in internet video lore.
Though he failed at all tries, he has no hard feelings for an organization he has known since 1995, when he arrived as an assistant for then-manager Lou Piniella. McLaren said he wasn't surprised to lose his job given the team's complete collapse, but he was surprised to be fired so soon _ three days _ after Seattle dumped general manager Bill Bavasi.
"I thought I was going to do it a little longer," he said. "But I understand the team's situation."
McLaren remains under contract with Seattle through the end of the season and said he offered to help out later in the season with some scouting or consulting.
The bench coach and confidant to many players, including franchise cornerstone Ichiro Suzuki, became manager last July after Mike Hargrove abruptly quit with the Mariners in playoff contention. McLaren said despite the team's current state, he thinks just a few tweaks are needed to get it back into contention.
Suzuki disagrees. Asked late Wednesday night, hours before McLaren was fired, if players should be next to go and the team should be playing for 2009 now, the All-Star said, "Yes, I think so."
McLaren did say one Mariner may need to go: fading slugger Richie Sexson. The owner of the lowest batting average among AL regulars (.209) since the start of the 2007 season had just 23 RBIs in 58 games entering Friday. He hasn't had an extra-base hit since May 24 and has become a target of incessant Seattle booing.
"That would be a possibility for him to get a fresh start," McLaren said. "He needs to reach a relaxed stage. I don't know if he'll be able to do that with everyone looking at him and all the speculation. He's still strong. It makes you wonder, if he gets a fresh start someplace else, if it wouldn't be better for him."
McLaren then excused himself from the call. Piniella, his mentor and close buddy, was on the other line from Chicago, calling during a rain delay in his Cubs' game against the White Sox.
"I can hold my head high," McLaren said. "Believe me."