Citing the need to have a manager more supportive of the organization’s player development philosophy, the Colorado Rockies on Sunday fired Modesto Nuts manager Lenn Sakata.
“They didn’t give me a reason,” Sakata said Sunday morning while packing his office. “They said that it’s clear that I didn’t believe in what they were doing and since they weren’t going to renew my contract anyway they’d go ahead and do it now.
“So I got fired, I guess, because I don’t believe in the philosophy of what they’re doing. I got fired for caring too much about the development of each player.”
The Nuts announced the move Sunday morning, but Sakata was told of the move late Saturday night and was boxing his belongings at John Thurman Field as the players — now led by development director Fred Nelson — boarded a bus for Bakersfield.
“There are certain things that the organization is attempting to do and it became clear that Lenn was not longer going to be a fit as we moved ahead with those efforts,” said Jeff Bridich, Colorado senior director of player development.
“The decision had nothing to do with his ability to teach the game or have a positive impact on our players. But at this point we needed a different type of manager and leader to meet our developmental needs.”
The Rockies brought Sakata into the fold as the hitting coach in Low-A Asheville in 2011, then put him in the manager’s chairs in Modesto for the 2012 season.
Starting this year, Colorado discontinued the practice of having roving instructors move between its minor league affiliates, instead installing a new position in the clubhouse — the director of development — whose job it was to make sure the organization’s player development philosophies were being followed.
Sakata, 59, managed parts of nine seasons in the California League, winning a record 684 games, reaching the playoffs eight times and claiming three league championships. His first managerial job, with the Modesto A’s in 1989, also ended with Sakata being let go in mid-season.
“I’m not bitter, but I am disappointed,” Sakata said. “I’m perplexed by the mystery of this whole thing. I guess I just wasn’t clear with what the Rockies were trying to accomplish.
“I don’t harbor any animosity. I’m grateful to have had the chance to work with the players in this organization. Every player I’ve worked with in this organization has impressed me. I respect and love every one of them as people.”
At the minor-league level, all players and field staff are supplied by the parent organization and not subject to hiring and firing by the local club.
“The Rockies are our partner,” said Modesto Nuts general manager Mike Gorrasi. “I work with every manager to make both of our jobs easier, and from that standpoint Lenn was one of the best I’ve ever worked with. Everything we’ve asked from Lenn as a manager he’s given to us and more.”
The manager-player relationship in the low minors tends to be closer than that of its major-league counterpart. At the major leagues, it’s all about winning. In the minors, it’s about developing skills while learning how to win, and the manager assumes a much more hands-on role.
“I don’t know what happens now but this can’t help but disrupt the club,” Sakata said. “The relationships are something you start establishing from Day 1, in spring training even.
“You make progress and the trust is there, and now the players will have to look for another source of guidance. I’d gotten to that point with the players, and it’s much more involved than having them put goals and feelings on pieces of paper.”
Bridich expressed confidence that the Rockies have a structure in place to help the players handle the sudden move to a new clubhouse and dugout leadership.
“As influential as a manager is on kids, as they advance through the system the development becomes incumbent on the entire organization,” Bridich said. “We still have very good people in place in Modesto and we’ll rally around the kids to make sure their needs are met.”