The wait is almost over for manager John Oates, whose contract will be renewed before Baltimore Orioles front-office officials gather for a major organizational meeting tomorrow morning.
No official announcement has been made, but general manager Roland Hemond said yesterday that he would be meeting with Oates this morning, and Oates said that he already has been asked to attend tomorrow's off-season planning session. If that doesn't make it obvious enough, two club officials indicated yesterday that Oates would be offered a new contract today.
Hemond would not reveal the purpose of today's meeting, but he praised the job that Oates did under difficult circumstances in 1991 and said the club is going to waste no time putting the season behind it.
"Things will be taking place shortly," said Hemond. "We've been concentrating on this season up to now. We'll step ahead on the major decisions in the next few days. We're working toward next year and future years at a feverish pace."
The club also is expected to announce the makeup of the 1992 coaching staff today, and there could be some notable changes, but everything starts with the manager.
Oates replaced Frank Robinson as manager on May 23. The Orioles were 13-24 at the time, 10 games out of first place. The club went 54-71 the rest of the way and finished 24 games out, but Hemond was impressed with the way the players responded to their new manager.
"Everyone knows how I feel about Johnny," he said. "It makes you proud of the club that even though they have not been in the race, they haven't half-stepped. Seeing Dwight Evans go from first to third on a bunt Friday night personifies the way they've kept playing hard."
Oates is taking nothing for granted, but club officials have been saying for weeks that his return was a foregone conclusion. He was being groomed as the club's manager of the future long before he accepted the job, so he didn't figure to be an interim choice.
"I might be the most disappointed person in the world tomorrow," Oates said, "but I'm excited. I've just got a feeling that everything is going to work out."
The Orioles were never armed for a pennant. The starting rotation was in disarray well before the managerial change. By season's end, the club had trailed by three runs or more before the fourth inning in 43 games and lost 39 of them. The front office could not, in fairness, judge Oates on results it had no right to expect.
The only other barometer was effort, and there was general agreement that the club did not let down after it became apparent that it would finish in the lower reaches of the American League East Division standings.
"I felt there was an aggressive, don't-give-in approach to the game," Hemond said. "When we fell behind, we kept battling."
Oates met with his players before yesterday's 7-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers and thanked them for the effort they put out.
"The record was not indicative of the effort," Oates said. "There is no doubt in my mind that every player has given this organization his full effort. I just thanked them for what they've done for me."
The once and future manager said that he was looking forward to playing a role in the formation of next year's team but that he would wait for the ink to dry on his contract before assuming the job was his.
"I like the idea of getting a little bit of a break mentally and emotionally, and hopefully get the opportunity to start up again next year," he said. "I want to be able to sit back and look at the whole picture and then proceed forward."
Hemond took one step yesterday, signing reliever Mike Flanagan to a 1992 contract. The timing of the announcement was perfect, coming as Flanagan took the mound for his final appearance at Memorial Stadium.
If it also seemed like the perfect day to announce Oates' contract, the Orioles didn't think so. They didn't want the impact of the announcement to be diminished by the other festivities.
"With some clubs, they did it earlier because they are playing out the string," Hemond said. "We aren't playing out the string. We wanted to focus on what's transpiring here this weekend."