PEORIA, Ariz. — The Bad Dude decided it was time, this time, to back away for his own good. At least for a spell.
John Stearns stepped down Friday morning as the Mariners’ third-base coach in order to concentrate on his recovery from hernia surgery. He said he wrestled with the decision for the last 10 days.
“I’m just not ready to go,” he concluded. “So why would I take this all of the way into April?…It kills me because the thing we all want to do in this business is be in the big leagues.”
The Mariners responded by promoting Triple-A Tacoma manager Rich Donnelly to replace Stearns. General manager Jack Zduriencik said a replacement for Donnelly with the Rainiers will be announced in a few days.
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Stearns was reassigned to the club’s pro scouting department and will begin his new duties when his health permits. He underwent surgery Feb. 24 for a hiatal hernia after reporting discomfort in his upper abdomen.
The man first tagged as Bad Dude Stearns during an 11-year playing career from 1974-84 initially believed he could make a quick recovery. That changed in recent days.
“I thought, for sure, I’d be out there by now,” he said, “but I can’t even eat anything solid right now. I’m eating yogurt and protein drinks and stuff.
“If I try to eat anything solid — especially bread or meat or anything like that — I get this tremendous discomfort right here in my (upper) chest. I’m having a hard time coughing and sneezing.”
Stearns, 62, is expected to make a full recovery, but club officials always believed it would take longer then he anticipated but said it was solely Stearns’ decision to resign.
“John’s a tough guy,” Zduriencik said. “He’s got a great pain tolerance, but when this happened, we were told this is more serious than he thinks…We all know his background: Bad Dude Stearns.
“He was a defensive back at Colorado. He’s been an All-Star player. Tough guy. We all know that. He’s going to be fine. It’s just a matter of when.”
Donnelly, 67, served as third-base coach this spring in Stearns’ absence and now gets the job, a familiar one, on a full-time basis. He is a veteran of 27 years as a big-league coach, including 14 as a third-base coach.
Ironically, it was Stearns’ promotion to the big-league staff that created an opening for Donnelly in the Mariners’ organization. Stearns spent most of last season as the Tacoma manager.
“As we move forward,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “the most important thing is making sure John gets healthy and is able to be productive again. I know it’s a tough decision, but it’s one I full support.”
Donnelly was a coach on Jim Leyland’s staff in Pittsburgh when McClendon closed out his playing career from 1990-94. Donnelly spent the last three years as the manager at Short-A Brooklyn in the Mets’ system.
“Rich brings a lot of expertise,” McClendon said. “He’s been a bench coach. He’s an ex-catcher. He’s managed. There’s a lot of experience that comes along with Rich Donnelly. He’ll serve us well.”
McClendon said bench coach Trent Jewett and bullpen coach Mike Rojas will inherit Stearns’ duties as the major-league catching coach. Donnelly’s new responsibilities will include coordinating big-league camp operations.
While minor-league camp opened Wednesday for pitchers and catchers, full-system workouts don’t start until March 11. A Tacoma manager could be appointed by then. If not, minor-league coordinators will oversee operations.
“I’m not going to put a timetable on it,” Zduriencik said, “but we’ll take a few days. Three or four days, maybe, to decide where we’re going. There’s a few things we need to talk about.”