Relax, Peter Oates and your Orioles are managing fine

June 17, 1994|By John Steadman

Just about the most ridiculous story since the unearthing of the remains of the Cardiff Giant is that Johnny Oates was about to be buried as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Such a decision at this juncture would not be in the immediate interest of the franchise or the team's long-range future.

It's a move entirely premature and if it has entered the mind of the new owner, Peter Angelos, he should purge the thought by taking a long walk or a cold shower to cool off. Operating a baseball team in what is the longest of sports seasons is pressure enough without hearing your job is in jeopardy with the team in second place.

Angelos needs to be patient, to concentrate on how the game is played and make an attempt to understand the nuances of a sport he knew virtually nothing about when he bought the team at public auction for $173 million.

He needs to learn that successful owners don't rise and fall over a win or a loss. An owner needs to keep a clear perspective, be patient and objective. Men far richer than he is, Tom Yawkey and Phil Wrigley, two exceptional men, tried to buy pennants for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs with enormous expenditures but found out, much to their regret, that some things just can't be bought with a checkbook.

Oates heard he was in trouble when the Washington Post quoted an unnamed Orioles official. Conjecture, at the time, three weeks ago, was Angelos might be the source, although it was merely a guessing game that also had Larry Lucchino, the former Orioles president, and Joe Foss, the vice chairman of business and finance, as possible purveyors of the fire-Oates caper.

It also was understood that Frank Robinson and the other Robinson, Brooks, were being mentioned as possible replacements. Too bad. The record shows Frank has been fired in three cities as a manager. As for Brooks, forget it. He wouldn't touch the job.

The Orioles players read newspapers and certainly realize they are better off with Oates in the dugout than some successor they don't know. It would be nothing more than a different jockey on the same old horse, to put it in the vernacular of the racetrack, a simile Angelos can readily understand since he also owns and operates a racing stable.

If Angelos wants to do something to help his team then all that's necessary is to say Oates is his manager for the rest of the year. Not a vote of confidence, per se, because, more often than not, such statements have a reverse result. They become a "kiss of death."

A mere pronouncement from Angelos that Oates is the field leader would remove the concern that has been raised and silence the second-guessing critics, many of whom don't know the difference between a fungo bat and a pogo stick. Only Angelos has the authority to clarify Oates' future.

A boost by Angelos would put an end to the uncertainty and give Oates reason to believe the owner was in his corner and isn't getting ready to send him packing. To this point, the current Orioles field leader has a much better record than such previous club managers as Paul Richards, Frank Robinson, Billy Hitchcock, Jimmy Dykes and Cal Ripken Sr.

So what's the complaint? Angelos, the freshman owner, wants to win right away. But he needs to realize the other teams have professionals, too, and that the Orioles are in good shape when it comes to a contending role. Angelos ought to relax and enjoy the action. A four-game win streak will push the Orioles even or ahead of the Yankees so why be concerned with something as frivolous as changing managers.

When Oates was hearing and reading that his job was in jeopardy, he handled the situation with professional style. He didn't cry, alibi or complain. By not reacting he gained additional respect from team members and others in the organization. The players know what they have in Oates, a man they admire, who defends them at every turn. They are aware he isn't a front-runner, who will bail out on them, which is important to the athletes.

And he's not from the managerial school that tells the press and public that "they play badly but I manage brilliantly." The Orioles have more to concern them in all aspects of the organization's attempts to improve without tying a tin can to Johnny Oates. To do that would be an act of dim-witted foolishness signifying a massive case of baseball ignorance.

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