Angelos eases Oates' burden

March 27, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Third base coach Jerry Narron ran toward the Orioles' dugout, crossing directly in front of owner Peter Angelos.

"Who's that guy?" Angelos asked.

Left-hander Jim Poole, a valued member of the Orioles' bullpen, took the mound at Al Lang Stadium.

"Who's the pitcher?" Angelos inquired.

It was the day everyone feared, the day the Orioles' investors descended on spring training, the day the countdown on manager Johnny Oates was expected to begin.

Only that's not the way it went.

Oh, Angelos is still a baseball novice, as his lack of familiarity with the Orioles suggests. But anyone who thinks he's the next George Steinbrenner is mistaken.

Angelos gave his manager as strong an endorsement as he could yesterday, and said he understood that raising the payroll from $27 million to $37 million doesn't guarantee success.

Could Oates ask for anything more?

The investors were a formidable presence, filling half a section next to the Orioles' dugout, but yesterday was a step toward security, a step toward stability and maybe a step toward the World Series.

Angelos is learning.

Money alone can't win a pennant.

Neither can a manager.

Those are critical points, yet they escape Steinbrenner. Just three days ago, the New York Yankees owner delayed his team's workout 30 minutes as he and other club officials met with manager Buck Showalter and his coaching staff.

Angelos thought Steinbrenner's meddling amusing, not inspiring. Heck, he doesn't have time to dictate the roster. He's too busy running his law firm and trying to steal an NFL team for Baltimore.

"That's George," Angelos said, smiling. "George is a unique and special character. I think the world of him. That doesn't mean I'd do what he does. But I wouldn't criticize his approach."

Is Angelos a quick study, or what? The owners don't rip each other -- they save it for the players. Angelos once coveted Fred McGriff openly, but now that he knows baseball's tampering rules, he won't do the same with a pitcher he wants back, Gregg Olson.

Of course, it's one thing to master the etiquette, and another to become an effective owner. But so far, Angelos is reacting calmly to the injury to $9 million free agent Sid Fernandez and renewed questions about staff ace Mike Mussina.

It's not an exact science.

Welcome to the bigs, pal.

"The variables are the difference," Angelos said. "If you get the breaks with a team of this caliber, you can go all the way. But if you don't, it's like the saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men. That's what makes it a great game."

And that's why you don't fire a manager in April after giving him a two-year contract. Many assume Oates will be gone if the Orioles get off to a poor start. But when presented with that scenario yesterday, Angelos said, "absolutely not."

Angelos didn't guarantee that Oates would manage through 1995 -- "if there should be some lack of success initially, or at some other point in time, you certainly can't predict decisions which would be calculated to unseat the manager," he said.

That's lawyer-speak for, "I can do whatever I want." Still, Angelos was full of praise for Oates -- "this is a good, strong field manager" -- and the other investors were equally impressed after Oates addressed them for 15 minutes yesterday morning at an exclusive St. Petersburg hotel.

Jim McKay, Mr. Thrill of Victory, gushed, "I'm a big Johnny Oates fan." Maybe now Oates will stop realigning his outfield every three minutes. He returned from his presentation in high spirits, sensing that he struck a chord.

"I felt there was some power in that room -- and I don't mean the Cal Ripken Jr. kind, either," he joked. "It was fun. After I got started, I enjoyed it. Not too often do all those guys sit down and listen, huh? And I had 'em for 15 minutes."

Oates seemed even more at peace after the Orioles' 3-1 #F Grapefruit League victory over Texas, their third in a row and 10th in their past 13 games. At times this spring, he has been tense and defensive, but after yesterday, he seemed almost unburdened.

"I like my job, I'm proud of my job, I want to keep my job," Oates said. "If at the end of the 10th day or the 100th day, I haven't done well enough to stay, so be it. I know one thing -- I'm going to give it everything I've got."

Let Steinbrenner terrorize his manager.

This marriage has a chance.

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