One thing is clear about the Nationals’ decision to fire hitting coach Rick Eckstein today: The move was not endorsed by manager Davey Johnson.
General manager Mike Rizzo approached Johnson today and told him that he was going to fire Eckstein, who has served as the Nats’ hitting coach for the last five years. Johnson, who has called Eckstein the best hitting coach he’s ever been around, disagreed with the call to the point that he put his own job on the line, suggesting that Rizzo could fire him instead of Eckstein.
“I said, ‘There’s other options. You can do away with me if you want a change of scenery or change the philosophy,’ ” Johnson said.
Rizzo didn’t want that, but he did feel a move was necessary in order to jumpstart the Nationals’ struggling offense. As a result, Eckstein was relieved of his duties today.
Johnson found Eckstein in the weight room today and broke the news to his friend.
“It was a shocker,” Johnson said, speaking slowly and quietly. “I’ve experienced a lot of things in my career. I’ve been traded, I’ve been released, I’ve been sold, I’ve been fired. But today is arguably the toughest day I’ve had in baseball. I respect Rick Eckstein, I think he’s a great coach. I think he’s one of, if not the best hitting instructor in baseball. He’s just a great gentleman and a great man. So it hurts. It hurts. ...
“Rick and I have had many conversations about each and every player on the ball club and the direction we try to keep them going in to be successful. So I feel like a part of me is gone, too. I’ve released guys and I’ve sent them down, and this was the toughest thing I’ve ever done.
“Obviously I’m not in agreement with it. But I live by the adage that when you’re successful as a team, even the lowliest bird dog scout should get a lot of credit for the success. Everybody should share in the success. And I’m a firm believer that when you aren’t successful, everybody is in on the blame, too.”
There’s a thought that sometimes change can just be good for the sake of change. Johnson understands that theory, but doesn’t think the Nats necessarily needed to make any tweaks to get a change in on-field performance.
“That’s always the case,” Johnson said. “Something has to change. You make trades, you bring up young kids. But from where we’re at as an organization, I’ve said before, I don’t think there needs to be a lot of changes. I just think it’s part of the growth process of the organization to be a full-fledge perennial contender. And I still feel that way here.”
In the end, I think Johnson’s response to a question about why Rick Schu was the one hired to replace Eckstein was very telling. Johnson explained that Schu was the logical choice as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator, but then quietly offered seven more words.
“I was not involved in that, either,” Johnson said.