Reds show more than token affection for Perez after Schott-Bowden fiasco

BASEBALL

May 30, 1993|By JIM HENNEMAN

Usually when the manager is about to get fired, the players sense it before he does. When the act finally takes place, they are ready with their "he couldn't hit or pitch for us" comments that really mean "we needed a change, so somebody had to go and there are too many of us."

Not so in the case of Tony Perez. The reaction when he was fired by the Cincinnati Reds on Monday was hardly typical. Do you think Davey Johnson felt welcome with his players wearing the number of his predecessor on their shoes and caps? That was quite a display of support by the Reds, who felt their ex-manager had been shortchanged.

A lot of people had wondered whether the gentlemanly Perez was stern enough to manage in the big leagues. They also wondered whether he would get a chance to find out -- or whether he was a token hire by owner Marge Schott, who was under investigation and soon to be under suspension for inflammatory comments about minorities.

The verdict came in when Perez went out after 44 games. He made it clear he felt he had been used. "I don't know if it was because I was a big name in town or a minority, but I'm not happy about it," said Perez, who is both.

What's important to note here is that the one-year suspension of Schott by baseball's Executive Council does not appear to be as firm as former commissioner Fay Vincent's two-year ban of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. James G. Bowden IV, the 32-year-old general manager Schott hand-picked to replace Bob Quinn last October, technically is the one who hired and fired Perez.

But it is absurd to think that Schott, who was not under suspension when Perez was hired Oct. 31, wasn't an active participant in both decisions. She had labeled her team "an embarrassment," and her presence around the club has been so visible, she was seen sending a note to Johnson during his first game in the Reds' dugout.

When a player is suspended he can't play, but there's no way to keep an owner from owning. And, in this case, there's also no way to keep the owner from talking. After Perez was fired, Schott was quick to issue a statement regarding a decision supposedly made without her input.

The whole thing was a charade, from the hiring to the firing. When Bowden, after a series of interviews, hired Perez, he also signed two of the finalists for the job, Johnson and Bobby Valentine.

Perez, formerly the team's batting coach, had been given a one-year contract to manage. Johnson is signed through 1994, and Valentine is now on the coaching staff. You think maybe Schott and Bowden were positioned for a quick move? Does a baseball have stitches?

Bowden informed Perez he was the ex-manager with an 8:30 a.m. wake-up call. That might have been the nicest thing the Reds did for Perez -- at least he knew the rest of the day would be an improvement.

Orioles: follow the leader

Much has been said about the Orioles not having a leader, having too many dull personalities and not enough people to ignite a spark.

The leadership factor is perhaps not to be totally overlooked, but it's hardly as important on an athletic field as it is in the military. Those who perform well are leaders. Those who don't, aren't. In the early stages of the season, the Orioles have not had a lot of people perform well and the ones who have, for the most part, are inexperienced in the role.

With the possible exception of Don Baylor, who wasn't here long enough, Frank Robinson is the only player the Orioles have had who combined skill with a clubhouse presence that demanded attention.

Over the years the Orioles have had more than their share of loose, high-spirited players. They've also had their share of dull, but successful, teams. But they've never had a loose, high-spirited team during a losing season. Except for the Washington Generals, such a team doesn't exist.

There's no question that the Orioles' clubhouse isn't the same without Bill Ripken, Randy Milligan, Sam Horn and Joe Orsulak, but something has been forgotten: Those players didn't just play here a year ago -- they were also here during some lean years, and there wasn't much said about their impact in the clubhouse then.

Harold Reynolds isn't Bill Ripken, David Segui isn't Randy Milligan, Harold Baines isn't Sam Horn and Mark McLemore isn't Joe Orsulak, who actually was one of the quietest players in the clubhouse. Players can be replaced, but personalities can't, and that's something the Orioles knew when they did their winter makeover.

It's hard to determine the impact of a so-called leader when it's almost impossible to define someone who has that quality. My favorite description came from Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.

When Roberts came here in 1962, the Orioles had much the same reputation they have now. He was asked what it took to be a take-charge guy on the field.

"I don't know," said Roberts, who had a quick wit, "but it's usually an infielder who can't hit."

Enough said.

Johnson takes charge

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