Oates itches Angelos' trigger finger

May 26, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

If Peter Angelos wants to fire Johnny Oates, he should get on with it. If not, he should shut up.

It's difficult to know what to believe in the wake of a Washington Post report Monday that quoted a top club official as saying Angelos "won't let this go on forever."

This?

At the time of the report, the Orioles were on a pace to win 93 games. After yesterday's 6-3 victory, they're on a pace to win 98.

If Angelos wants to make history, this is his chance: No owner has ever fired a manager with a .605 winning percentage in the middle of a season.

Angelos insists such a move hasn't been contemplated, but judging by the way he's running the Orioles, patience isn't his strong suit.

In the 10 months he has owned the team, 26 of the Orioles' 90 full-time employees have either resigned or been fired.

Granted, the payroll was bloated. Granted, change was inevitable.

But when you're talking about nearly one-third of the organization, you're talking about a severe talent drain.

Heck, Angelos even forced the resignation of one of his own hires, chief administrative officer Fred Arscott, the No. 2 man in the business operation.

These aren't good signs for Oates, who might be one losing streak away from disaster, considering that Angelos paid $173 million for his new toy and added $43 million in free-agent wrapping paper.

But don't feel too sorry for the manager. He's practically asking for it.

Oates can manage as well as anyone, but he's running scared. Blame Angelos if you'd like, but Oates has been like this since he first took over in May 1991, losing weight faster than games.

Once a manager assumes a siege mentality, it's over -- see Cal Ripken Sr., 1988. Say what you want about Frank Robinson, but he was secure in his decision-making -- too secure, if you asked his players.

Oates' two-year contract changed nothing. He's still a basket case, small-minded in his approach, tense, edgy, defensive. The result isn't what you'd expect from an active baseball mind. The result is a passive manager.

You see it in his handling of players: Oates is terrified not to play his best lineup, even if it means wearing out his regulars by September. Cal Ripken is chasing Lou Gehrig, but should Brady Anderson? Chris Hoiles catches too many innings. And now Oates is in love with Jack Voigt.

You see it in the way he runs a game: Last Thursday, trailing Boston by one run, Cal Ripken led off the ninth with a single. It would have been the perfect spot to run Damon Buford. Instead, Oates asked Hoiles to sacrifice.

As always, his rationale was sound -- Hoiles was struggling, the bottom of the lineup was struggling and the idea was to generate some offense. But Hoiles failed to get the bunt down, as he had in an earlier loss to Seatle. And Ripken never advanced.

On May 7, New York manager Buck Showalter was confronted with the same situation (a one-run deficit in the ninth) against the same battery (Boston's Jeff Russell and Damon Berryhill). Luis Polonia stole second after drawing a leadoff walk. And the Yankees scored twice to win, 6-5.

That's aggressive managing.

To be fair, Oates might have tried the same thing with his own leadoff man, Anderson. But Showalter's the one working for George Steinbrenner, right? He's not afraid of his owner, he's not afraid of the media, he's not afraid of anyone.

Oates fears his bullpen -- Sid Fernandez twice has thrown 130 pitches with disastrous results in his next outing.

He fears veteran mood swings -- why else does Mark McLemore continue to play over Tim Hulett against left-handed pitching?

And he fears young players who might cost him his job -- witness his handling of Brad Pennington and Arthur Rhodes.

For Angelos -- a man who humbled the nation's leading asbestos firms, overwhelmed rival bidders for the Orioles and wants to bring the NFL to Baltimore -- he's not exactly the perfect match.

Who would be better?

Oh, Mr. Know-It-All will figure it out.

Actually, he should have figured it out last November, before he gave Oates two years. Instead, he has created a poisonous atmosphere -- a rather dramatic blunder, considering the effect it is bound to have on Oates.

Yesterday, Angelos was again saying all the right things -- "It's a long way to October . . . 40 games does not make a season," etc., etc. He even said he'd reassure Oates that his job wasn't in jeopardy.

"I'm new to this," he said. "If the feeling is, that should be done, I have no problem doing that. I'd be delighted to do it. I guess, in circumstances like these, it would probably be a good idea. In light of that, I'll very likely communicate to him the statements I've made."

Better he should say, "You're fired," and get it over with.

A trigger-happy owner.

A panicky manager.

And, oops, almost forgot, a 98-win pace.

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