WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson acknowledged that he disagreed with the decision to dismiss hitting coach Rick Eckstein and called the move one of the toughest of his baseball career.
"It was a shocker," Johnson said. "I've experienced a lot of things in my career. I've been traded, released, sold and I've been fired, but today is arguably the toughest day that I've had in baseball. I respect Rick Eckstein. I think he is a great coach. He is one of the best hitting instructors in baseball and he is such a great gentleman and a great man, so it hurts, hurts."
Johnson often said, "If you fire Eckstein, you might as well fire me," but Johnson has no intentions of quitting. Johnson tried to convince Rizzo there were other options. Johnson even suggested letting him go. But Rizzo wouldn't have it that way.
"I'm more concerned at this moment about my club," Johnson said. "We only want what's best for the players. As coaches and managers, we spend our waking hours thinking about what we can do to make it easier for them to be successful -- to do the things they know they are capable of doing. Rick and I had many conversations about each and every player on the ballclub and the direction we try to keep them going to be successful. I feel like a part of me is gone, too."
Johnson and Eckstein were known to have the same hitting philosophy -- hit the ball where it is pitched and be aggressive at the plate. But the Nationals were far from aggressive at the plate and they struck out too often.
General manager Mike Rizzo said he has no intentions of dismissing Johnson, who is expected to retire at the end of the season.
"Well we're not going to fire Davey Johnson, one of the best managers that ever managed," Rizzo said. "Davey's a pro. We have been through a lot of this stuff before, and we're not worried about our manager. He's one of the best in baseball and I trust him.
"Davey and I have great respect for each other, and this was a general manager's decision. I respect Davey to the point where I run everything that we do by him, but there's certain things that we may not agree on and this was one of them. I felt we needed a change and so I made the change."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle knows what it's like to dismiss a hitting coach. While he was the skipper of the Rockies, he dismissed Alan Cockrell after the 2008 season and replaced him with Don Baylor.
"The hitting coach position is the most volatile position now in Major League Baseball," Hurdle said. "Check out the changes made in the last five years. Right before I left Colorado, I had to fire a hitting coach and hire a new one. It's the most challenged position; there's something to be said for continuity. I know it's a very challenging job, and it takes time to develop trust, to get players to buy in."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.