LA dismisses Murray as hitting coach
Former batting champ Mueller takes over on interim basis
LOS ANGELES -- Disappointed with a struggling offense, the Dodgers on Thursday dismissed hitting coach and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray.
General manager Ned Colletti and manager Grady Little named former American League batting champ Bill Mueller to replace Murray on an interim basis, although all three left open the possibility that Mueller could take on the position long term. Mueller has been a special assistant to the general manager since retiring last winter with a deteriorating knee.
"We'll find the right person, the perfect fit," said Colletti. "It might be Bill Mueller, it might not be Bill Mueller. It might be Bill Mueller, and he might say it's not his cup of tea."
Mueller was hoping his front-office role would allow more time with his family in Arizona, and he indicated he was uncertain if he was ready to return to the grind of a 162-game schedule.
"It's very difficult to think long term. It's happened so fast," said Muller, who accepted the job after Wednesday night's game, when Murray was told of the decision.
Without leveling specific criticism at Murray, Little did say it was important for "everyone to be on the same page as everyone else," while Mueller stressed that "the lines of communication will be wide open."
Little said he had a lot of respect for Murray, but that the change was made because the offense was underachieving.
"Our expectations were much greater, and hopefully the change gets us going," the manager said. "Nothing specific. Some players we were expecting much more of than we're getting, and we felt like it was time for a change."
As for the timing, with the Dodgers in a first-place tie, Colletti said when the early-season struggles continued: "We started thinking about and talking about it, because we felt the offense can be better than it is."
Colletti said that the recent shift in the makeup of the roster to younger players was not a major factor in the decision.
Under Murray this year, the Dodgers have posted a .261 team batting average, sixth in the National League entering Thursday, with 288 runs scored, tied for seventh in the league. Los Angeles is tied for 14th in home runs with 52, and the club ranks 15th in slugging percentage at .383.
Colleti said Mueller will serve as "a bridge" to a permanent choice without disrupting the Minor League system by promoting someone internally, but indications are that there will be no immediate aggressive search for a replacement unless Mueller withdraws from consideration.
Mueller's knee is at least partly to blame for the chain of events that led to Murray's dismissal. Colletti was expecting Mueller to be the Dodgers' third baseman through this season, and his absence resulted in a scramble to find a replacement. Wilson Betemit was acquired from Atlanta last year, and he did a reasonable job, but then lost the role this May to Andy LaRoche, who was followed by Tony Abreu. Now Betemit appears to have won it back.
Mueller, 36, won the 2003 AL batting title and was a key member of the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Still due $4.5 million this year on the contract he signed when he came to the Dodgers prior to the 2006 season, Mueller will be charged with assisting an influx of young hitters now on the Dodgers' roster.
His said his presence as a teammate through last season and a part-time instructor during Spring Training will accelerate the process of developing relationships with the hitters.
Murray, 51, was hired by Little when the manager came in before the 2006 season. In Murray's first season, the Dodgers led the league with a .348 on-base percentage and a .276 team batting average. It was the first time the Dodgers led the league in hitting since coming to Los Angeles in 1958.
Little indicated that Murray did not take the news well. Murray, as has been his custom, was not available to the media.
"His reaction was the normal reaction you would expect after hearing what we had just told him," said Little.
Murray was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 as one of 20 members of the 500 home run club, and he is one of only four players in big-league history who have more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs -- the others being Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Rafael Palmeiro.
In 21 seasons with the Orioles, Dodgers, Mets, Indians and Angels, starting with an American League Rookie of the Year season in 1977, Murray batted .287 with 504 homers and 3,255 hits in his Major League career, and he ranks ninth on the all-time RBIs list with 1,917.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.