How one man got wired by night of scanning for real story of Oates' dismissal

September 27, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

As Claude Rains commands in "Casablanca," the movie classic: "Round up the usual suspects."

Don Zimmer's application is in the mail. And Davey Johnson's, too.

And, hey, Billy Hunter's available as of next June when he waves bye-bye to the athletic director's job at Towson State.

Frank Robinson can serve as the interim until Hunter is relieved from academia. He should be able to maintain his interest for a couple of months.

Maybe Earl Weaver is sick of losing to those golf sharpies in South Florida who have been taking him to the cleaners for years.

Yes, the gentlemanly manager of the Orioles, Johnny Oates, got the pink slip last evening, a full six weeks before it was expected owner Peter Angelos would tie a can to him.

In these strike-torn days, it was no big deal. It was around 7 p.m. when confirmation came. It was 42 minutes later when word finally made the Associated Press newswire. Nothing fancy: "Baltimore Orioles manager Johnny Oates has been fired. A story will move shortly."

It was four minutes later (7:46) when we learned, "A replacement has not been named." Speculators, start your engines.

Seven more minutes (7:53) and we were informed, "The Orioles were 63-49 (.563) in 1994 and 291-270 (.519) in Oates' nearly four years as manager."

Come on, AP, give us the good stuff. Did Johnny slash his wrists, jump up and down and holler, grab Angelos by the lapels and back him against the wall or what? You could cut the tension in the office with a knife, which was done after it was used on the pizza, which had just arrived.

It was nearly 8 o'clock: "Johnny Oates, whose high-priced lineup did not produce enough to satisfy ownership . . . " Finally, some meat.

At 8:06, a story arrived, twice, for good measure. At 8:21, the Oates' record since that May day in 1991 he replaced F. Robby tumbled in: 54-71, 89-73, 85-77, and, up to Aug. 12 and the strike, 63-49. Total: 291-270. By 8:25, there was a 13.5-inch story covering the basic facts. It was repeated three minutes later.

It was the usual stuff. No, general manager Roland Hemond insisted, Johnny hadn't been canned because The Sun revealed Sunday the O's had sought permission to talk with Oakland manager Tony La Russa. He said the move was made to ensure Oates could find another position.

It is reported that Hemond, with a straight face, said, "It is because of that regard for Johnny that we thought it appropriate to make our determination at this time to maximize Johnny's opportunities to secure another attractive position. We are confident he will do so and we wish him the very best in all of his future endeavors."

Yes, indeed, last year's Manager of the Year, according to The Sporting News, now has a very advantageous third-place position in line following already jettisoned managers Hal McRae (Kansas City) and Butch Hobson (Boston), and La Russa becomes a free agent in a week or so. Date of dismissal is very important when you're being interviewed for a job later on.

Oates' statement came through the team. There was no surprise. "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," he said after ducking down to kiss the hem of Mr. Angelos' toga.

Peter, not kept up to speed regarding what his go-fer Hemond said earlier, admitted the story about going after La Russa "triggered" the ouster of Oates. "It was not fair for Johnny," he added, forgetting that he hadn't sought discourse with his manager since the players called a strike Aug. 12, which is a while, 45 days. The man's very busy, remember.

A bit later on the wire (8:40 p.m.) came a story captioned, "Ripken." Oh boy, Cal, in the finest tradition of Bucky Harris, Lou Boudreau and, yes, Frank Robby, is to be the player-manager. That was quick and it kills two salaries with one stone.

False alarm. "The budgeted Ripken story (Tom Keegan, Sun) will not move tonight." The ball writer was busy, trying to figure the owner's next move.

Now, where were we? Oh yeah, prospective replacements for Johnny Oates.

How about Jim Palmer? He knows everything.

Wait, wait! The key may be Al Davis. Angelos talked to the renegade owner of the Raiders when he was in Los Angeles, supposedly inquiring about the Rams. It was a cover. Pete wasn't asking Al about dealing with the NFL, but was soliciting suggestions for a manager.

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