Hit Man Angelos has struck out this time

September 27, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

What Peter Angelos knows about baseball would fit into a thimble. Correction: Half a thimble.

Now Angelos accelerates himself, in less than one season at the controls of the Baltimore Orioles, to being a full-fledged leader of the execution squad, otherwise known as an impatient, demanding owner of a baseball franchise.

He has fired the first and only manager he ever knew, a bona fide southern gentleman named Johnny Oates, who came through the Orioles' farm system -- first as a player, then a manager -- and has performed a highly creditable job.

Angelos, the inexperienced general of the Orioles, decreed Oates had to go. So just like that, with the order given, he's gone.

Part of the problem for Angelos is he's a green rookie and isn't able to compare Oates to any other manager, good or bad, because he has no idea what constitutes proper direction of a baseball team on the field.

Angelos is trying to learn as he goes along. Reports that Frank Robinson, one of Angelos' assistants, soon to be general manager, was second-guessing Oates early in the year were earlier denied. Oates and Robinson said they had no differences.

Right or wrong, when Cal Ripken Sr. managed the Orioles, charges of a similar nature were heard before the late Edward Bennett Williams, then the owner, showed Ripken the exit.

Oates has been given a rotten deal. He knows you are hired to be fired; that goes with the business. But the dismissal of the manager was hardly a well-kept secret. For months, the word was conveyed to newspaper reporters because Angelos himself was putting out the word.

Angelos demeaned Oates at the slightest provocation, even offering ridicule of how Oates handled himself at a civic luncheon when he made a blunt reply to a gentleman asking a question about the Orioles.

The players, like cons in the penitentiary, have a way of knowing what's going on in the inner workings of an organization, the personalities, the politics and the moves that are in the planning stage.

In this connection, they knew Angelos didn't like Oates and was on borrowed time. Maybe Angelos didn't stop to realize what he was doing, or perhaps he didn't care, but the owner was undercutting his own manager. Regrettable and entirely unnecessary.

Angelos took Oates to the guillotine and, just like that, he was an ex-manager of the Orioles. That the club wanted to make a move at an early date so as to give Oates time to search for other opportunities is being used as some kind of a well-cushioned phony excuse to make the Orioles look and feel good.

Only an infantile would believe that. What do the Orioles do now? They take their pick of the likes of Tony La Russa, for 15 years an American League manager; Dave Johnson, an ex-Oriole now with the Cincinnati Reds; and Rick Dempsey, also a former Oriole who has managed for two years in the Dodgers' farm system.

All three have strong capabilities, the difference being that La Russa and Johnson have managed and won in the majors.

Then there's the fading, far-off voice of "bring back Altobelli," meaning Joe Altobelli, the last Oriole to win a World Series for Baltimore and shortly thereafter was dumped when the charitable Williams referred to him as a "cement head."

Aren't owners wonderful? It's looking more all the time that Peter Angelos isn't another Tom Yawkey except in one respect. He spends like him.

Meanwhile, Johnny Oates, although treated as if he's a piece of spoiled meat, should be relieved to be out from under working for a man he found impossible to please.

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