When season resumes, Lopes should be O's manager

August 09, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- These are the final days, or at least they should be. Johnny Oates lasted this long only because of the threat of a strike. If and when the season resumes, the Orioles' new manager should be Davey Lopes.

Everyone knows Oates is doomed -- his firing might not be as imminent as the strike, but it's just as inevitable. Under the feisty Lopes, the Orioles might actually snap out of their season-long malaise. Once the strike ends, what's there to lose?

Owner Peter Angelos has been pushing toward this moment all season, sniping at Oates, second-guessing him and, most recently, writing his lineup. Let's say the strike lasts two weeks. With some 30 games left, a wild-card spot would be attainable. To return with Oates would be pointless and cruel.

Tony La Russa won't be available. Frank Robinson wants to be the next general manager. In late August, the only candidates for the job would be the six members of Oates' coaching staff. And, of those, Lopes makes the most sense.

His only managing experience was in the Arizona Fall League last year, but he's the type of leader Angelos desires -- a strong-willed, no-nonsense general, widely respected by his players, utterly confident in his talents.

We're talking, in other words, about the polar opposite of Oates -- a manager who lost his owner long ago, and is now losing his players. Regulars like Chris Hoiles want more rest. Reserves like Lonnie Smith want more playing time. And then there are the starting pitchers.

Either they take themselves out

too early, or they never come out. Remember Oates' regrets over allowing Mike Mussina to throw 141 pitches last season? On back-to-back nights in Milwaukee last weekend, Ben McDonald threw 146 and Arthur Rhodes 147.

/# Starting pitchers no longer are

conditioned to throw that many -- that was the reason Mussina got hurt last season. Now Oates has ordered the starters to inform the media when they ask to leave a game, the better to establish accountability. That's not leadership. It's lining up scapegoats.

Such is the poisonous atmosphere surrounding an embattled manager -- an atmosphere for which Angelos is largely responsible. Oates might never fulfill his promise as a manager, but under this meddlesome owner, he never had a chance.

Now there's talk of Angelos wanting La Russa as his manager and Atlanta's John Schuerholz as his GM. But who's to say they'd work for him? The baseball world sees Angelos as the next

Steinbrenner. La Russa doesn't need help writing his lineup. And Schuerholz doesn't need help from the Orioles' junior GMs, those Rotisserie League mavens, John and Louis Angelos.

Still, the true test for Angelos won't come until after he hires his own people, big names or not. Maybe he'd enjoy the give-and-take with a high-powered management team after dealing with the meek Roland Hemond and the meeker Oates. Or maybe he'd terrorize every one of his managers and GMs.

Oates just isn't the right fit -- he thinks like a former backup catcher, not a major-league manager. Ten days ago, Angelos ordered him to play Leo Gomez. It was the perfect opportunity for Oates to defy the owner, preserve his dignity and turn public sentiment

in his favor. But he was so scared, he blew it.

The only thing a bully respects is when you spit in his face -- Angelos liked it when Hemond threatened to quit last winter, for at least it showed that the GM had a backbone. Oates wasn't savvy enough to stage such a power play. Did he really think Angelos would fire him over Leo Gomez?

The final days were coming, anyway. Oates should be an object of sympathy. Instead, he's an object of scorn. The owner doesn't want him. The fans don't want him. And now the players aren't so sure. Whenever the strike ends -- be it Aug. 30, Sept. 15 or next spring -- the Orioles must return with a new manager.

See ROSENTHAL, 10C

From Page 1C

Lopes might not be the long-term answer. He might not even be a capable manager. But the Orioles can't sink any lower.

If nothing else, Lopes carries himself with a certain air, a certain cockiness. Maybe that cockiness will rub off on the players. They could

use the personality.

In the best-case scenario, the Orioles would rebound under Lopes and grab the wild-card spot.

Angelos would reward him with a one-year contract, and instead of facing an uphill fight to land La Russa, the Orioles would have a good man -- one of their own -- in place.

In the worst-case scenario, Lopes would be overmatched, leaving Angelos no choice but to look outside the organization for a new manager.

No big deal -- with an unproven interim, Angelos probably would expect to interview outside candidates, anyway.

In any case, it's time.

Bring on Davey Lopes.

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