The Toronto Blue Jays fired general manager J.P. Ricciardi on Saturday, ending an eventful eight-year reign marked by frequent controversy and mediocre teams never good enough to reach the postseason.
"This was a tough decision and a difficult one for me personally as I have enjoyed J.P.'s friendship and his perspective on the game," said Paul Beeston, acting president, and CEO. "J.P. has put an incredible amount of effort into improving the team and he has brought along a number of great young players. However, I feel that it is time for a change and accordingly we have decided to move on."
Ricciardi, who joined the Jays in 2001, had one year left on his contract. The 75-85 Jays are finishing off a mediocre season in Baltimore, with the team embroiled in locker-room unrest with manager Cito Gaston.
The Jays said Alexander Anthopoulos, vice-president of baseball operations and assistant general manager will take over for Ricciardi whose firing was widely expected.
Many fans will wonder what took so long as Ricciardi, along with centre-fielder Vernon Wells, had become the lightning rod for those most frustrated with the team's playoff drought, which dates back to 1993 when the Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series.
The best finish by one of Ricciardi's clubs came in 2006, when the Blue Jays went 87-75 to finish second in the AL East. But they never got within a sniff of the postseason and only the 2008 squad played any kind of meaningful September games, and of the too-little-too-late variety at that.
The 2009 campaign was like a microcosm of his tenure as GM. There was a hopeful start, a sudden collapse, a lack of resources to turn things around, a spate of injuries, some painful decisions related to bad contracts and ultimately, pessimism for the future.
Adding to the pain felt by Blue Jays fans this year was the clumsily handled Roy Halladay trade talks, which some believe robbed Ricciardi of his remaining credibility and sealed his demise. Ricciardi essentially took every media call he could for a month in a bid to try and create pressure on other teams to overpay for the ace, and in the end couldn't get a deal done.
Ricciardi's firing may finally lead to the installation of a long-term plan for building up the floundering club.
The Blue Jays have seemed aimless since Paul Godfrey stepped down as president and CEO following the 2008 season, and have focused on moving toward profitability under Beeston.
A lengthy search for a permanent replacement continues and the lack of a definitive vision for the future has left the Blue Jays spinning their wheels in the mud.
Either way, Ricciardi won't be part of it, and despite how polarizing a figure he was, his often off-the-cuff style kept things interesting.
He had countless memorable quotes over the years, perhaps the definitive one coming during a radio show while taking calls from fans.
"It's not a lie if we know the truth," he said about the back injury story concocted for B.J. Ryan when the left-hander was actually having elbow issues in 2007.
Ricciardi infamously trashed slugger Adam Dunn, now with the Washington Nationals, on the same radio show in 2008, telling a caller, "Do you know the guy doesn't really like baseball that much? Do you know the guy doesn't have a passion to play the game that much? ... I don't think you'd be very happy if we brought Adam Dunn here."
Ricciardi attacked other players, too.
"When a guy talks about coming to our place where he has a chance to win and compete against the Yankees and the Red Sox, and then he goes to a place like Kansas City, that's an eye-opener," he said of Gil Meche after the right-hander spurned Toronto to sign with Kansas City in the winter of 2006.
Royals manager Buddy Bell defended his player by saying Ricciardi was, "a little guy with a big mouth and all he does is whine. ... Every time I hear this guy talk, all he's doing is whining."
Ricciardi also twice caused spats by publicly wondering if former pitcher A.J. Burnett's injuries were simply in his head.
Ricciardi triggered controversies for many other reasons, too.
He was criticized for including an opt-out clause in Burnett's contract, for giving Frank Thomas an $18-million (all currency U.S.), two-year deal with a vesting option, and for signing Ryan to a $47-million, five-year deal.
Burnett left to become a free agent last fall, Thomas had to be cut in the second season at a cost of around $8-million, and Ryan was released in July with $15-million left on his contract.
Other bad contracts he signed included a $17-million, three-year deal for Canadian third baseman Corey Koskie and of course, the monster deals for Wells and former outfielder Alex Rios.
Wells has five years remaining on his $127-million, seven-year deal, an albatross contract that will handcuff the club for many seasons to come. The team managed to escape the $60-million remaining on Rios's deal when he was claimed off waivers by the White Sox, but Ricciardi got nothing in return.
The Blue Jays also had a spotty record in the draft under Ricciardi, who produced several decent major-leaguers but very few elite players.