Angelos-Oates marriage can't last

June 22, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Let's see, it has been four days since Peter Angelos last threatened Johnny Oates' job, and three days since Oates last stormed out of a pre-game media session.

Someone nominate these two for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Leave it to Angelos to blast Oates, then misspell his first name in a letter of apology.

And leave it to Oates to blame the media for his problems, when it's painfully obvious that his problem is the owner.

Fire Oates or shut up, that's what we advised Angelos.

He didn't fire him.

He won't shut up.

And the Orioles are left with a marriage about as stable as Roseanne and Tom Arnold's.

This apparently is a good week. Angelos has eased up, Oates has lightened up. Everything will remain hunky-dory, until the next time the owner disagrees with the manager's decision to bunt.

The Orioles are on an 89-win pace, and with Jeffrey Hammonds and Chris Sabo back, they might even take over first place shortly. But Angelos isn't happy. Probably no manager can make him happy. Just start the merry-go-round.

How smart is Angelos?

He's got a worry-wart manager, and keeps pushing his emotional buttons.

Then again, how smart is Oates?

He's got a crazy owner, and thinks it's everyone else's fault.

Indeed, as much as Angelos is out of control, we've seen dozens of other owners like him. What we've rarely seen is an embattled manager unable to rally public opinion against such a bully.

Which, sadly, brings us to Oates.

This is a man in the wrong job. Oates knows how to write a lineup. He knows how to run a game. And he's again showing his bolder side, trying Sabo in the outfield, running Mark McLemore against the Yankees, using his bench more liberally.

He'd be a wonderful manager, if only the Orioles played in a vacuum. Unfortunately, this is baseball, Orioles baseball, a near-religion in Baltimore. Oates wouldn't be getting paid approximately $350,000 this season if no one cared.

All managers erupt at the media, but Oates' outbursts reflect his larger problem -- his inability to handle stress. What happens if the Orioles make the World Series, when the pressure is most intense?

Will Oates snap?

Will he tell several hundred reporters he hates their jobs?

The portrait that has emerged in recent weeks is of a manager who no longer communicates with his coaches and players, a manager who spends most of his free time alone, a manager who is in need of an outlet.

Oates should be growing in stature; instead, he's shrinking. Angelos called him "an insecure man," adding, "I don't think he's a good leader." Hate to admit it, but the owner probably was right.

The players are largely oblivious, but they can't help but notice Oates' anxiety, especially when it seeps into his managing. That was the case earlier in the season. The New Johnny? A different one emerges every three weeks. And the Old Johnny is never far behind.

The shame of it is, this is a good man, humble and decent, devoted to his family. It's not that Oates has changed. It's not even that he's weak. It's just that few men can withstand the extraordinary daily burden placed on major-league managers.

Oates hated every minute of his career as a backup catcher; now, he's hating every minute as a manager. Maybe, like Cal Ripken Sr., he'd be better off as a coach, better off if Angelos just put him out of his misery. But he bristles at the thought of resigning.

The bottom line is, he's going to get fired. Oates can regain his dignity, and better position himself for his next job. Or he can keep withdrawing, raising legitimate questions about whether he deserves another chance.

Remember when he all but accused Frank Robinson of back-stabbing? "Oates believes -- apparently with some reason -- that at least one longtime Orioles employee is cutting him up in hopes of getting the job," the Washington Post reported.

"I don't know where the stories are coming from, but Mr. Angelos said they didn't come from him," Oates told the Post. "I think I know who some of the quotes are coming from, but I'm not going to say."

A few days later, Oates took it all back, saying Robinson would never back-stab anybody. Think Oates will believe Mr. Angelos the next time? After the owner's latest comments, the dirty little secret is out.

Angelos would never admit it, but now he'll be reluctant to fire Oates if the team stays in contention. Oates can keep pointing the finger at the media, but maybe now he'll identify his real enemy.

It's Angelos.

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