Just two years ago, Tony Pena was being celebrated for turning around the Kansas City Royals. Now, he’s out of a job.
The struggling Royals will begin life without Pena as they close out a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
Pena resigned as manager Tuesday night, hours after the Royals lost 3-1 to the Blue Jays and fell to an AL-worst 8-25.
Royals spokesman Aaron Babcock said Pena would be replaced on an interim basis by bench coach Bob Schaeffer.
“I feel that at this time we have not played to the top of our abilities,” Pena said in a statement released by the team. “The Kansas City Royals are on the right track by committing to their young players, and I believe the Royals will be contenders for a long time if they don’t change their direction.”
A catcher in the National League during most of his 18-year playing career, Pena was a coach for Houston when the Royals chose him to replace the fired Tony Muser early in the 2002 season. Kansas City went 49-77 the rest of the way, but started the 2003 season 16-3 and actually competed in the AL Central for the first time in 10 years.
The Royals wound up 83-79, their first winning record in a non-strike year since 1993, and Pena was named AL manager of the year.
But after the disastrous 2003 season, in which Kansas City loaded up on high-priced, underachieving veterans such as Juan Gonzalez, Pena came under heavy criticism. He had continued to plummet in fans’ popularity, but just two weeks ago was given a vote of confidence by owner David Glass and general manager Allard Baird, who said Pena would be the manager for the rest of the season.
Hit hard by poor decisions and the small market-large market economic imbalance in baseball, the once-proud Royals have not appeared in the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series.
Kansas City general manager Allard Baird said Pena will be offered a position within the organization.
“I am glad that he will continue to remain a part of the Royals,” Baird said in a statement. “He was manager of the year in his first full season and he has played a major role in the development of our young players. Under Tony’s leadership, he has positioned many of our young players to be the foundation for the further success of the organization.
“Despite our early season struggles, this team has battled with an intensity that reflects Tony’s personality.”
Toronto has bounced back quickly from a four-game losing streak by taking the first two games from the hapless Royals. Roy Halladay pitched his AL-leading third complete game of the season and Shea Hillenbrand hit a two-run homer for the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
Mike Sweeney homered for the Royals, who have lost 16 of 19.
Sweeney has seven home runs in his last nine games. He has 29 of Kansas City’s 108 RBIs (27 percent) this season.