04/19/2002 00:17 am ET
Brewers sad to see Lopes go
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- After announcing he had fired manager Davey Lopes, and before the first of a four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Brewers general Manager Dean Taylor met with players and coaches and called for a clean start.
"We have a long way to go in the season, and we're turning the page today and opening a new chapter," Taylor said. "Today is 'Opening Day II' from my standpoint. You can take your batting average, your earned run average; whatever it is prior to today it's gone. It's history. It's done."
Even though the team came through with a 7-5 victory thanks to Richie Sexson's two home runs and franchise-record seven RBIs, it was easier said than done.
"It's extremely hard right now," said interim manager Jerry Royster, who joined Lopes and pitching coach Dave Stewart in a tearful private meeting before Thursday's announcement. "It's hard on Stew and I probably a lot more than anyone else because of our closeness to Davey. Davey raised me as a professional, and he did the exact same thing to Dave, from day one."
Stewart put on hold aspirations of being a big league general manager and signed a one-year contract to serve on Lopes' staff, and used to live with him when both men coached the San Diego Padres. With his old roommate out of the Brewers' plans, will "Stew" remain on board?
"It's early right now, and I'm going to do my job," Stewart said. "My staff trusts me, and they believe in me, and personally speaking, Davey expressed that the best thing for me to do is stay. I respect him, and I love him, and for him to say that after the fact he was fired says a lot."
Will he follow Lopes' wishes?
"I don't really know what I'm going to do," Stewart said. "All I know is that I'm here today."
What if the Brewers hire Royster, his long-time friend through Lopes, as the permanent manager?
"I'm Dave Stewart. I make my own decisions," he said. "Right now, I'm committed to doing what I have to do. I can't tell you what I'm going to do. And if there's a new manager, he can do whatever he wants."
Not surprisingly, Royster hopes Stewart hangs on.
"I'll tell you what, it sure helps that I'm the guy here," Royster said. "He came over here because Davey and I were here. We'll see. Hopefully things work out well. I really need him."
Royster and Stewart aren't the only Brewers coaches with emotions after Thursday's firing. Lopes also hand-selected hitting coach Gary Matthews and first base coach Dave Collins to join his staff this season.
"There's a bond with my friends that I'm not sure a lot of people have," Lopes said. "These are difficult times for two of my best friends in the game. I feel for them. They've got a lot of pain right now. Even though Jerry will run with the opportunity, he's feeling a lot of pain. It's a lot of mixed emotions. I don't know if I could do it, to be honest with you."
If the coaches were brothers, the players were sons. Even though Lopes kept a healthy manager-player distance, most players expressed a sinking feeling Thursday they had let their manager down.
"I don't care about that relationship stuff," shortstop Jose Hernandez said. "I'm here to play baseball. I know that we are a family, you know?"
When Hernandez made it to the majors with Texas in 1991, Lopes was the team's first base coach. In Milwaukee, Hernandez was one of Lopes' favorite players -- referred to as "my guy" and consistently defended against criticism.
"He stood by me because he knows how I can play, and he always put me in the lineup. I wanted to do my best for him," Hernandez said. "It's hard, the way we started in Spring Training so good and then the season came and we were losing. And we were losing 5-4 and 6-5 and 3-2 all the time."
The closeness of most of Milwaukee's early season losses, and the fact they came to teams with a combined 45-29 record through Wednesday, was a source of frustration for Lopes and his players.
"The thing that bothers me most is that we were in those games right to the end," said outfielder Geoff Jenkins. "We all feel like if those games had gone the other way it would be different."
Lopes also stood by Chad Fox in the relief pitcher's return from his third major elbow surgery. Fox was saddened that he couldn't say goodbye before Lopes left Miller Park on Thursday.
"I know he was frustrated, and everyone wanted to do it for him so bad," Fox said. "I really believe that if you look at any team -- the Yankees, the Braves, the Mets, it doesn't matter -- they have their bad streaks too of five, six, seven, eight games in a row. But they always find a way to get out of it, and we've got to find a way."
Adam McCalvy covers the Brewers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.