No poetic justice as supreme Oriole takes another head

September 28, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

If you have been watching Ken Burns' baseball docu-drama, you may be hoping, like me, that the series doesn't go into extra innings.

Oh, it's quite a yarn all right. Maybe it is just a teensy-weensy bit heavy on talking heads, though. I've been counting up. So far, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould has logged 30 minutes more air time than Joe DiMaggio.

And then there's (poetry alert) George Will. O, George Will. The passion. The rapture. The sure and certain knowledge that little bow-tied Georgie was never picked when the kids on the playgrounds were choosing up sides and that he ran home to console himself by reading Proust. In the original French.

I'm watching, though, because otherwise I find myself thinking about what the massive, Tolstoy-told-a-story-quicker, Burnsian treatment doesn't say about baseball. It gives us myth. It does not give us Peter Angelos.

Angelos is baseball in Baltimore. He owns the Orioles, of course. But that doesn't take it quite far enough. In describing his relationship to the team recently, Angelos was quoted as saying, "I'm the supreme and complete boss."

That's quite a statement, though perhaps not as immodest as it sounds. He didn't say, for example, he was the boss for life. But it does have that Alexander Haig ring to it that you so enjoy in a take-charge guy.

What does it mean, though?

It seems to mean he is from the school -- no, he's the supreme and complete principal of the school -- that no employee is good enough (unless that employee also happens to be a relative). In the year since Angelos has been the supreme and complete boss, there has been 40 percent turnover in the Orioles' front office.

Here's the basic Angelos management technique: If he knows you, he fires you.

Angelos took his time with Oates. He tortured him for a year first. He dangled him. He said bad things about him and then almost apologized. He looked for his replacement while Oates was still manager.

Poor Johnny. Let's just say if he were a fly, he wouldn't have any wings left.

Why did Angelos fire Oates?

There was destiny here. Watch "Forrest Gump" if you don't understand.

Angelos fired Oates because he just happened to be the manager. It could have been anyone. It wasn't anything Oates had done, exactly. The Orioles were in second place after all when the season struck out. They were on pace to win 90-plus games after all.

Angelos fired Oates because it's what he does.

He'll fire the next guy. And the guy after that. And the guy after that. If you're trying to wrap your mind around the concept, think George Steinbrenner.

Now a fair person might ask himself: What might Angelos' qualifications be to judge Oates' managerial skills? There are at BTC least two. Angelos became rich enough to buy a baseball team. And he has two sons who play rotisserie baseball and probably listen to sports talk on the radio.

In summation, Angelos knows no more about baseball than Oates does about the law.

What must the baseball poets make of that?

Oates' critics say he was managing scared. They're right. He was scared of Angelos, just like anyone is afraid of an erratic, megalomaniac boss. He'd have truly been nuts if he hadn't been scared.

The truth is that Oates is an average to above-average manager. He is almost certain to be as good as or better than his replacement.

Who might that replacement be? Angelos wants Tony La Russa, who currently manages the Oakland A's, because somebody told him La Russa is the best manager in baseball. In that case, La Russa must be smart enough not to come within a thousand miles of an owner like Angelos.

More likely, Rick Dempsey, a former Oriole hero, will get hired -- either as manager or back-up for the Oriole bird. My advice to whoever gets the job: Don't be in a hurry to buy any real estate.

Angelos is a local hero, too. He bought the Orioles and he loves to lavish money on them -- unlike Eli Jacobs, the previous owner, who brought the same passion to his baseball property as he would, say, to pork-belly futures.

Now Angelos is trying to bring an NFL team to Baltimore, too. As Angelos has learned, it's good to be the owner.

And as a long line of folks at the unemployment office are learning, it's not quite as good to be the employee.

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