In the day after the season finale, the Jacksonville Dragons responded to a disappointing season by firing manager Harlan Davidson. The decision was widely expected around the league, both because of the Dragons’ subpar record and the high level of tension between Davidson and his players.
“This had to happen,” said an anonymous Dragons player. “Either he had to go, or one of us was going to beat him to death in the parking lot.”
The Dragons were expected to contend this season, but finished 72-78 and disappointed on both sides of the ball. According to team sources, Davidson’s firing was motivated partially by the team’s record, but also by his penchant for criticizing and ridiculing his players during interviews. The skipper’s caustic comments made him popular with reporters seeking material for their stories, but it earned the ire of the players.
“There was a definite perception in the clubhouse that [Davidson] was throwing us under the bus to take the heat off himself,” said Dragons 1B Jake Kapoor. “You never heard him say, ‘I screwed up’ or ‘I made a mistake.’ It was always ‘This guy sucks’ or ‘If that guy screws up again, I’m going to kill myself.’ Remarks like that from time to time are one thing, but when it happens again and again, it gets old.”
Frustrations between Davidson and the team boiled over in midseason, when the manager reamed out many of his players by name after a tough loss to Orlando. The furious players held a closed-door meeting, then went to the manager to discuss the situation. The conversation produced a détente, with Davidson agreeing to keep his complaints in-house, and the Dragons ran off a winning streak. But things fell apart over the last month, as the team’s attempts to get over .500 fell short and Davidson began firing off barbed comments to the press again. Several players reportedly went to the front office to demand the manager’s firing.
Upon hearing news of Davidson’s dismissal, many of the Dragons gathered in a local bar to celebrate and express their relief.
“You could ask every one of the players and, to a man, you’d hear the same thing,” said Dragons C Judson Teachout. “All of us were ready to be done with him. You can’t lead an army into war and keeping fragging them at the same time.”
Dragons owner Eric Stetson had reportedly become disenchanted with Davidson over the course of the season. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Stetson considered terminating the manager in midseason, but decided to give him a chance to turn things around in the second half. When the Dragons fell short in their late-season pursuit of the .500 mark and Davidson returned to sniping in his postgame remarks, it apparently sealed his fate.
In a press release announcing the termination, Stetson said, “The Dragons thank Harlan Davidson for managing the team this season, but in light of the disappointing results, we have decided to go in a new direction. We will be conducting a thorough search for a new manager who can inspire our young players to reach their full potential.”
For his part, Davidson did not go quietly, according to sources. When Stetson called him in to inform him of the termination, Davidson reportedly lit into the owner. He claimed that Stetson needed to “take off [his] rose-colored glasses” and understand that the Dragons weren’t good. “You can get rid of me,” Davidson reportedly said, “but it’s not gonna fix what’s wrong with this bunch. Have fun failing again next year!”
Davidson remained defiant when speaking with reporters afterward. “I figured they were setting me up to be the fall guy,” he said. “Whenever a team goes bad, they always look for a fall guy. You can’t fire the whole team, and the owner can’t fire himself. It’s easier to say I was the problem.”
Davidson also alleged that the team deliberately underperformed in order to get him fired. “Oh yeah, there were definitely guys sandbagging me, especially toward the end,” Davidson said. “It’s not real professional, but it happens all the time.”
The ex-manager’s remarks weren’t all negative. “There were definitely a few guys on that team that I respect,” said Davidson. “Kapoor, [SP Randy] Cannon, Razor Corridon. But mostly, we were all sick of each other, and we’re better off. Sometimes when a marriage goes bad, divorce is the best thing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to the bar and try to drink myself to death.”
Along with Davidson, the Dragons dismissed the entire coaching staff, including first base coach Rod Roche, third base coach Milt Jamison, bench coach Randy Wilkins, hitting coach Steve Hartwell, pitching coach Jerry Kinser, and bullpen coach Bump Carruthers. According to Stetson’s press release, the coaches may be rehired at the discretion of the new manager.
The team did not identify any potential candidates to replace Davidson.