Lucchino, Hemond back Oates Orioles officials adamant manager is in no jeopardy

April 29, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Orioles president Larry Lucchino and general manager Roland Hemond yesterday dismissed any notion that the team's poor start has put manager Johnny Oates' job in jeopardy.

Both officials, although disappointed, said there is no thought of repeating the moves made in 1987, when Frank Robinson replaced Cal Ripken Sr. after six games, or 1991, when Oates took over from Robinson after 37 games.

"Please, give me a break -- give Johnny a break," Lucchino responded when asked if the manager was in trouble. "He [Oates] is going to iron it out."

Hemond was equally adamant. "Don't even think about it," he said.

Despite his team's results thus far, Oates was very calm and appeared genuinely unconcerned about his job security when the subject was broached before last night's game with Minnesota.

"If anyone wants to speculate, that's fine," said Oates. "I'll lose sleep over losing games, but I'm not going to lose sleep about getting fired. It's something I honestly don't worry about.

"It's something I feel good about," said Oates. "I have seen some guys [other managers] let it consume them to the point that the only thing that mattered was keeping their job.

"That doesn't mean I won't give it 500 percent. I want this job. I want to do well at this job -- and right now I feel like I'm letting people down. But I'm not going to worry about [keeping] my job."

Lucchino, who painstakingly tried to avoid his remarks being construed as a "vote of confidence," said he remained optimistic about the team and its manager. "This is a good team," he said, "and it will play better than it has.

"It can only get better, and it will get better. There are some talented players on this team -- and talent tends to reveal itself," said Lucchino. "I'm confident that this will be ironed out -- by the manager and these players."

Oates said that the first three weeks have been trying, but not to the point where he's becoming worried about his -- or the club's -- immediate future. "It's been very frustrating, and I'm not having a very good time," he said. "But . . . we're going to be all right."

The Orioles already have had two team meetings, one two weeks ago when Oates was extremely volatile, the other three nights ago when all uniformed personnel participated in lengthy discussions that lasted almost two hours. Oates admitted there is little else to accomplish with meetings, but said he came away from the most recent one with a positive attitude.

"There's never a guarantee you're going to win after a meeting," he said. "Not for one second can I find fault with the physical effort this team has given me, but I thought [Tuesday] night we were as ready to play as we have been all year.

"I liked our general approach and we hit the ball better than we have all year. We hit a lot of shots that were caught, but it was the best attitude we've had all season -- in the clubhouse, in the training room and in the dugout.

"I liked what I saw, and a couple of people even told me it was like Opening Day. I'd rather them have the feeling of Opening Day than Sept. 20th."

Oates admitted that his feeling carried over to, and may have influenced the outcome of, Tuesday night's game in Chicago. He went beyond any reasonable limit with starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who gave up eight runs in a 9-4 loss.

"I had it in my head before the game that I had my 'horse' on the mound -- the leader who was going to help get us out of this [slump]," said Oates. "I had predetermined that I was going to go with him longer than I normally would.

"After the fact, yes, I went with him too long. In my mind I went one hitter [a two-run double by Frank Thomas] too long. Sut has done it so many times, he was the guy I wanted out there."

A case can be made that Oates went an inning, not a batter, too long with Sutcliffe. But, rather than a strategic malfunction, it was more an indication of how Oates approaches certain situations.

He relied heavily on Sutcliffe a year ago and, even though the same needs no longer exist, he's still prone to lean on the veteran beyond what might be considered reasonable limits. That doesn't mean Oates will overextend Sutcliffe on a regular basis, but it is an indication he will stick with his instincts.

"In my heart I know I'm the same guy I was last year," said Oates. "And I'll be the same guy next year. I can't change. I'll do anything I can to prepare myself to help make this be the best club it can be."

Hemond and Lucchino, without making long-range commitments, indicated Oates will be in that position this year and beyond. "He's an outstanding manager and will continue to be for a lot of years," said Hemond.

Although Oates' contract technically is up at the end of this year, the Orioles hold an option for next year. Lucchino was asked if he could perceive a circumstance under which that option wouldn't be exercised.

"It's not in my contemplation," he replied.

That's hardly what could be termed a carved-in-stone guarantee. But, in baseball, it's about as close as it comes.

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