Final act of Angelos-Oates soap opera brings merciful conclusion

September 27, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

It's about time.

This should have happened in May, the first time Orioles owner Peter Angelos let it slip that he wasn't thrilled with Johnny Oates as manager.

Instead, we were treated to a five-month soap opera, a soap opera with only one possible conclusion, and a fittingly bizarre finale.

Why last night?

Because the entire world discovered that the Orioles requested -- and were denied -- permission to speak with Oakland's Tony La Russa, even though Oates was still their manager.

Oops.

Angelos publicly criticized Oates, misspelled his name in a letter of apology, even started writing his lineup.

But this was the topper.

How touching that Angelos interrupted his clumsy star search to put Oates out of his misery.

Let's see Roland Hemond take the fall this time, the way he did when Edward Bennett Williams dumped Cal Ripken Sr. in 1988.

The next manager will be the Orioles' sixth in 10 years.

Such a fine tradition.

Such a proud franchise.

Still, crazy as it might seem, this is a positive step. Angelos' answer to Monday Night Football -- the managerial boot -- ultimately will prove best for everyone involved.

For Oates, who can now apply for managing jobs in Kansas City and Boston and coaching positions throughout baseball.

For Angelos, who can finally hire his own manager, pending the approval of his sons, John and Louis (the poor boys, they're suffering from Rotisserie League withdrawal).

And for the Orioles, who no longer must play for a terrified manager under siege, assuming baseball returns before the 21st century.

Maybe now Oates can finally relax. He's a good man, he's widely respected, and he'll earn a handsome 1995 salary, thanks to the two-year contract Angelos gave him last winter.

La Russa, Detroit's Sparky Anderson and the New York Yankees' Buck Showalter are among the managers who think highly of Oates. He could be a bench coach for any of those three next season.

It seems unlikely he'll get another managing job quickly, but don't rule it out.

What if Orioles assistant GM Doug Melvin becomes GM in Texas? Or if former club president Larry Lucchino becomes a part-owner in Pittsburgh or San Diego?

Melvin brought Oates into the Orioles' organization by naming him manager of Triple-A Rochester in 1988. Lucchino was the club's chief decision-maker when Oates took over for Frank Robinson in May 1991.

There's also Kansas City and Boston, and don't forget Oakland if La Russa leaves. The Chicago White Sox could lose Gene Lamont to the Royals. The Chicago Cubs likely will fire Tom Trebelhorn.

Andy MacPhail, the Cubs' new president, is expected to hire a new GM, who in turn will hire a new manager. Oates was a coach with the Cubs from 1984-87. He'd be a candidate for the job.

In the right situation -- low-pressure market, low-profile owner -- he still might become the brilliant manager so many expected.

Maybe he'll learn from this experience.

Maybe he just needs to be rid of Angelos.

La Russa, the owner wants La Russa.

Let's get serious.

Why would a manager who has been to three World Series work for a man who will order him to play Leo Gomez?

Angelos can offer La Russa a contract fatter than Sid Fernandez, and he still won't come.

La Russa's first choice probably is to stay in Oakland, and his second almost certainly is Boston, where he could satisfy his considerable ego and become the man who ends the Curse of the Bambino.

That would leave Angelos in search of another high-profile manager, and the one who makes the most sense is a former Oriole, Cincinnati's Davey Johnson.

Davey Lopes?

No experience.

Rick Dempsey?

The idea is to do better than Oates.

Look-alikes need not apply.

Whatever, Johnson's contract is set to expire in Cincinnati, and he reportedly is not a favorite of owner Marge Schott's.

Bingo!

Schott might be the only owner still talking to Angelos -- they were the misfits who used invisible ink to sign the owners' resolution canceling the season.

What's more, Schott is so anxious to use replacement players, she'd trade Johnson for her pick of the Orioles' minor-league litter, plus a box of dog biscuits, seasoned with Old Bay, for Schottzie 02.

Speaking of minor-leaguers, the firing of Oates almost certainly will result in the firing of pitching coach Dick Bosman -- good news for Arthur Rhodes and Brad Pennington, the wild lefties who evoked fear and loathing from the major-league staff.

A new day is upon us.

A new day, after five months of threats, and a final, sorry night.

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