Oates fired by Orioles 2nd-place finish not good enough

September 27, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Johnny Oates began his four-year managerial tenure with the Orioles by losing four consecutive games and 16 pounds. He ended it yesterday with a winning record and one year left on his contract.

Oates heard he was fired yesterday afternoon, shortly after finishing a round of golf at a charity tournament in Richmond, Va. A somber Roland Hemond announced it hours later in a series of phone calls to media members.

Majority owner Peter Angelos, who expected a championship-caliber team after spending generously on free agents in the off-season, offered to break the news to Oates in person in Baltimore. But both men thought the lengthy drive unnecessary and Hemond, the Orioles general manager, let Oates know of his fate by phone.

"I and everyone with the Orioles wish Johnny the best," Angelos said. "He leaves with our gratitude, goodwill and respect."

Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa, former Oriole Rick Dempsey, who manages the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate, and Orioles first base coach Davey Lopes head the list of possible successors to Oates.

The Orioles finished this season with a 63-49 record and trailed the first-place New York Yankees by 6 1/2 games when the strike hit Aug. 12.

Managing the Orioles into the postseason was thought to be Oates' only chance at saving his job. That chance vanished when the players went out on strike Aug. 12 and never returned.

Oates became the third manager to be fired since the strike began. He follows Hal McRae of Kansas City and Butch Hobson of Boston.

With managerial vacancies in those two cities, and others

possibly opening up soon, the Orioles wanted to give Oates a shot at landing another managing job.

"I certainly foresee him managing in the major leagues again soon," Hemond said. "He has gained valuable experience and certainly should have a continued bright future in baseball. I haven't heard from any clubs, but of course they knew John's contract ran through 1995. They didn't know he was going to be available."

While Oates sounded serene by telephone from his home in Colonial Heights, Va., Hemond sounded almost depressed.

"It's always a difficult task for everybody," Hemond said. "For Peter, myself and everybody involved. It's always difficult, whether it involves managers, coaches or players, especially someone of the fine-caliber person that Johnny is. He's a very fine family man and you get close."

Said Oates: "I want to thank the Baltimore Orioles organization for giving me the opportunity to manage at the major-league level. I leave the O's with my head held high. I would like to thank my coaching staff for their loyalty and endless hours of hard work.

"I would also like to thank the players for their all-out effort day in and day out. Last but not least, I would like to thank all the wonderful Orioles fans for their support and encouragement."

Oates chose not to elaborate on that prepared statement, saying only, "I have some family members I would like to talk with first before I talk to reporters. Not tonight."

La Russa, who will be pursued by the Boston Red Sox and the Athletics, among other teams, heads the Orioles' wish list of replacements for Oates. The Orioles were denied permission to speak with La Russa by the A's, but they can do so when his contract expires on Oct. 7.

Angelos told the Associated Press last night that a report in The Sun Sunday on the Orioles' interest in La Russa hastened the process.

"We couldn't let things continue like this. It was not fair to Johnny," Angelos told the AP last night. "We would have probably ended up making the same decision, but that newspaper story forced us to act quicker than anticipated."

The Orioles are not limiting their managerial search to La Russa, in case he decides either to stay with the A's or sign with another one of his suitors.

Said Angelos: "We plan to interview a number of qualified candidates, concluding the process as soon as possible. Obviously, in a situation like this, the sooner the better."

Dempsey, the Orioles' all-time leader in games caught, also ranks high on a preliminary list, as does Lopes. Others who might figure in the mix include Cleveland Indians pitching coach Phil Regan and Cincinnati Reds manager Davey Johnson, whose contract is about to expire.

Reached at his home last night, Dodgers general manager Fred Claire neither would confirm nor deny the Orioles already had asked for and were granted permission to speak to Dempsey, who managed the Albuquerque Dukes to the Pacific Coast League title and said the Orioles job "would be a dream come true."

"Rick has done an excellent job for us," said Claire, who would not stand in Dempsey's way of interviewing for the Orioles' opening.

The Orioles entertain no illusions of wooing Jim Leyland, who is under contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates through 1996.

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