Dave Littlefield: "Our execution wasn't improving. I think we've under performed, and at this point in time we need to move forward."
This is what's known as Buck Passing (which should not be confused with Buc Passing, which is what the Cardinals, Astros and Cubs do year after year). The statement that the Pirates underperformed under Lloyd McClendon begs the question, "Compared to what?" Compared to another manager? Perhaps, perhaps not. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter. The terrible players with which Littlefield provided McClendon were the real cause of all the losing, and the two or so wins a year McClendon may have added or subtracted were just a drop in the bucket.
McClendon was an incompetent tactician, relying way too heavily on platoon matchups (think of Abraham Nunez' stint as the Bucs' top pinch hitter) and tiny sample sizes ('Hitter X is 1-for-6 lifetime against Pitcher Y'). McClendon also preferred veterans to young players, which made him an awkward fit for a cash-poor team that was always trying to work its way out of the cellar. (To his credit, however, McClendon did a decent, although not perfect, job handling an influx of talent from the minors this year.) And despite McClendon's fiery, first-base-stealin' public persona, this year one Pirates beat writer claimed there was no urgency in the Pirates' clubhouse.
McClendon was reasonably diligent about trying to protect his young pitchers from overwork, although nearly all of them seemed to get injured anyway. That may not have been his fault, and it may have been worse under a Dusty Baker-like manager.
At many points during McClendon's tenure, the Pirates have looked like they don't know how to play baseball. They've been positioned wrong, they've thrown to the wrong bases, they've gotten caught in rundowns, and so on. Again, it's hard to say how much of this is McClendon's fault, especially since many of the players he's had to work with have spent far more time with the Pirates' minor league coaches than they've spent with McClendon. I'm not sure installing a manager with a reputation for fielding fundamentally strong teams will solve this problem, insofar as there is one.
Overall, I've never thought McClendon was a good manager or the right manager for a team in the Pirates' situation. But whatever role he played in the won-loss records the Pirates accumulated during his tenure, it was small, and the most guilty parties for the Pirates' recent failures have been GM Littlefield (who has needlessly dumped helpful young talent, drafted badly, and generally has had no plan to make the Pirates better) and the Pirates' ownership group (which refuses to spend money). Like many manager firings, this one isn't about the manager. It's about Littlefield, Kevin McClatchy, and Ogden Nutting, who need to send some message to the fans that they care about all the losing and have some idea how to make it stop. I won't be shedding any tears for McClendon, but this firing wasn't about anything he did or didn't do, despite Littlefield's claims about underperforming. It's about buying an extra couple years for his administration.
The interesting thing here is that the Pirates might - might - turn a small corner soon. This year, a number of players they had in the upper ranks of the minors (Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit, Ron Paulino, Chris Duffy, Brad Eldred, Bryan Bullington) have turned out to be better than they seemed at this point last year, and the Pirates might finally reach .500 in about 2007. If they do, it will be with a new manager at the helm, and to the casual fan, it'll look like it was McClendon holding them back. Actually, it was the Littlefield administration bumbling while they waited for a decent crop of talent, much of it acquired by a previous GM, to come through the minors. If the Pirates do get to .500, Cam Bonifay will deserve a huge hunk of the credit (insomuch as any credit is due for one winning season in fifteen years). The manager will have little to do with it.
Bench coach Pete Mackanin will manage the Pirates for the rest of the season.