DETROIT (AP) – Soon after Alan Trammell was fired Monday morning as manager of the Detroit Tigers, Jim Leyland was en route to the Motor City as the leading candidate to replace him.

Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski planned to have interviewed Juan Samuel and Bruce Fields – both from Trammell’s staff – before discussing the opening with Leyland about 24 hours after the regular season ended.

“I am driven to move quickly because I think there could be a lot of interest in Jim Leyland,” said Dombrowski, adding his search could end as soon as Tuesday.

Trammell was fired after three seasons in which he failed to turn around a franchise without a winning record since 1993. The Tigers were expected to be close to .500, if not better, but fell short with a collapse toward the end of the season and finished 71-91.

“I thought we responded to everything well except for this last month,” Trammell said last week. “I think, looking back, it is fair to say that we hit a wall.”

The Tigers were 186-300 in three seasons under Trammell. The MVP the 1984 World Series, who had one year left on his contract, did not return a message seeking comment Monday.

Detroit lost an AL-record 119 games in Trammell’s first season as manager, then improved to 72-90 last year, the biggest turnaround in the AL since Baltimore’s 33-game improvement from 1988 to 1989.

“I’m sad to see him go,” pitcher Mike Maroth said. “I would’ve liked to see him get another year, but these things happen in sports.”

With a lineup and bullpen that seemed upgraded, the Tigers thought they had a chance for a winning season. The Tigers were 42-44 at the All-Star break and 61-62 in late August before losing 29 of their last 39 games.

“We thought we had a chance to be a better ballclub,” Dombrowski said.

Dombrowski wouldn’t give details when pressed by reporters for reasons he made the decision to fire Trammell.

“I did to him, I don’t think I owe it to you,” he said.

Leyland, a former Florida, Pittsburgh and Colorado manager, told The Associated Press that the Tigers called him Monday morning to set up an interview with him that evening.

“It’s well known that I interviewed with Philadelphia last winter, and I’d like to manage again,” the 60-year-old Leyland said last month.

Leyland helped the Marlins win the 1997 World Series – with Dombrowski as general manager – and was a two-time NL Manager of the Year while leading the Pirates. He was 72-90 with the Rockies in 1999, his last season as manager.

“He’s an outstanding manager, one of the best in baseball,” Dombrowski said.

The Tigers were set back by injuries, but Trammell refused to point to them as an excuse. Outfielder Magglio Ordonez missed about half of the season with a hernia, and closer Troy Percival appeared in just 26 games before an elbow injury ended his season in July. Both were hailed as prized free-agent signings before the season.

Standout shortstop Carlos Guillen also struggled to stay healthy after having knee surgery last year.

“Really, I’m OK,” the 47-year-old Trammell said last week as speculation grew that he would be fired. “I’m a big boy. I’ve been through enough that I understand how things are.”

Things were much different when Trammell was a player and helped the Tigers post 11 consecutive winning seasons from 1978-88.

As a 20-year standout in the field and at the plate, he led Detroit to a World Series championship in 1984 and the AL East title in 1987, when he narrowly was beaten out by Toronto’s George Bell for AL MVP.

Trammell was a six-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove and three-time Silver Slugger shortstop.

After he retired in 1996, he was a baseball operations assistant in Detroit for two seasons and was the Tigers’ hitting coach in 1999. Then, he moved near his hometown and coached with the San Diego Padres for three seasons.

The Tigers knew Trammell was the popular choice to be their 35th manager on Oct. 9, 2002, and they insisted he was also the right choice. Trammell, Al Kaline and Ty Cobb are the only players to be with the team for at least 20 seasons.

“I’m saddened because you’re dealing with somebody who has put their heart and soul into something,” Dombrowski said. “For the organization, he’s one of the greatest players of all time. If you’ve met Alan Trammell and you don’t like him, you should probably look at yourself.”

AP Sports Writer Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

AP-ES-10-03-05 1853EDT

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