Even Oates' supporters admit he wilted under job's pressures

September 27, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Mark Hyman contributed to this story.

Some said he could not have done a better job.

Others said he wilted under the pressure of managing a championship-caliber team.

Everyone agreed, this season was a difficult one for fired Orioles manager Johnny Oates.

Former Orioles pitcher Pete Harnisch, who said he enjoyed playing for Oates at Triple-A Rochester, said he could not believe when he saw footage on ESPN this season of Oates lashing out at the media.

"That's not the Johnny Oates I knew," said Harnisch, who now pitches for the Houston Astros. "He just didn't seem right there. There must be something else. I heard he was under a lot of pressure."

That pressure came from new owner Peter Angelos, who opened up his wallet in the off-season and expected a quick return. Angelos' public comments his manager did not make Oates' job any easier.

"Peter Angelos frightened Johnny Oates to death," said Jim Palmer, Oates' former teammate. "As good a guy as Johnny is, I am not sure he felt comfortable making moves. He had this facade of confidence that really wasn't there. He was trying to be something he really wasn't."

Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said Angelos' expectations were unrealistic because the Orioles, even with their free-agent additions, did not have the best team in the American League East.

"There's not another guy who could have walked into Baltimore in 1994 and won the pennant for them, including Tony La Russa, who I think the world of, because the Yankees would not have been beaten," Anderson said.

Yankees manager Buck Showalter, whose success may have ultimately done in Oates, had nothing but admiration for his former rival.

"He's a guy I respect a lot, not only for his on the field moves, but also for the way he carries himself," Showalter said. "It certainly makes all major-league managers feel a little more fragile when they wake up tomorrow morning and realize that's Johnny's been fired."

Anderson said the proof of Oates' managerial ability lies in his won-loss record.

"When you look at someone like Johnny Oates, look at his record and look at the record the previous two years before he took over," he said.

Anderson and Showalter weren't the only ones who said the team's second-place finish in the American League East was not Oates' fault.

"It sounds like he managed a losing ballclub, and we have been winning," pitcher Mark Williamson said. "We were very inconsistent, but I don't think you can blame the manager. They can only do so much."

"I guess the expectations were more than what we were capable of," Williamson said. "They made Johnny the scapegoat."

Other Orioles, though, weren't impressed by Oates' managerial style.

Pitcher Ben McDonald said Oates needed to loosen up.

"Everyone knows that you play better when you're relaxed, and then you see the manager uptight and all," McDonald said. "It kind of gave some of the guys an uneasy feeling that he's pressing, and it snowballs and they start pressing, too."

Some players who liked Oates did not enjoy playing for him during this pressure-filled season.

"I don't think there's a lot of guys that are happy to play for Johnny," third baseman Leo Gomez said. "I'm not going to tell you which ones."

Their major gripe was a lack of communication.

After Angelos began lambasting Oates publicly and forced him to make certain roster moves, such as making Gomez the regular third baseman, Oates shut himself off, not only from the media, but also from his players.

"He never talked to me," Gomez said.

"He wasn't as personable and didn't communicate maybe as he should have or as I thought he was going to, like in spring training," McDonald said.

But Oates communicated very well with others.

Jack Voigt said Oates was responsible for the outfielder's stint in the major leagues.

"He fought many battles for me and got me to the big leagues," said Voigt, who was sent down to Double-A Bowie at the end of the season. "He was always up-front with me, and if I ever came to him with a question, he would answer it."

Voigt said he would play for Oates anywhere, anytime.

"I think he's going to end up somewhere else in the major leagues," Voigt said. "He wouldn't have been voted manager of the year by his peers unless they thought he was a good manager."

Anderson, the manager who Oates refers to as "idol," said that any major-league team that hires Oates will get its money's worth.

"Johnny Oates will be back in the major leagues," Anderson said. "I don't know that it will be in the immediate year. I hope so. If he's just patient, he will be back."

O'S MANAGERS' RECORDS

Where Johnny Oates stands among Orioles managers in career winning percentage:

Manager .. .. .. .. .. Record .. .. Pct.

(Years)

Luman Harris ... .. .. 17-10 ... .. .630

(1961)

Earl Weaver . .. 1,480-1,060 ... .. .583

('68-82, '85-86)

Hank Bauer .. .. .. 407-318 . .. .. .561

(1964-68)

Joe Altobelli .. .. 212-167 . .. .. .559

(1983-85)

Johnny Oates ... .. 291-270 . .. .. .519

(1991-94)

Billy Hitchcock ... 163-161 . .. .. .503

(1962-63)

Paul Richards .. .. 517-539 . .. .. .490

(1955-61)

Frank Robinson . .. 230-285 . .. .. .447

(1988-91)

Cal Ripken Sr. . ... 68-101 . .. .. .402

(1987-88)

Jimmy Dykes . .. ... 54-100 . .. .. .351

(1954)

THE FIRING LINE

The list of managers who have been fired since the players went on strike, and their 1994 records:

Manager .. .. .. .. Team .. .. W-L .. .. Pos

Hal McRae ... .. .. Royals ... 64-51 ... 3rd

Butch Hobson ... .. Red Sox .. 54-61 ... 4th

Johnny Oates ... .. Orioles .. 63-49 ... 2nd

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