Poor Johnny Pete never knew you

September 28, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

With Johnny Oates, the straightest of arrows, there's no personal or professional resentment toward the man who fired him. If Peter Angelos, who tied a tin can to his manager, much the way he might have summarily dismissed a research clerk, could have realized the in-depth qualities of the man, he would have given him a bonus and a new contract with a raise in pay.

Most owners would consider themselves fortunate to have inherited a man and manager possessing the characteristics of Oates. Unfortunately, Angelos found Oates in the job when he bought the Orioles. That was Johnny's mistake, being there as an incumbent when the new owner assumed control.

Had the owner been responsible for hiring him, rest assured Oates would still be on the job. Angelos, if you'd like an opinion, shows little regard for expertise. That's the Angelos way, good or bad. It's how he functions in being his own man in all things and, specifically, in the practice of law. There's little doubt he's a giant in his profession.

It would do Angelos well in the future to endeavor to be more patient and make a sincere effort to try to understand the human psyche. Also baseball. When Angelos wrote his controversial letter to Oates during the season, a copy of which should go to the Hall of Fame, he said the manager should let up and be relaxed.

Angelos also promised to mend his ways and not pick himself off base again by saying any more derogatory things about Oates' style of managing. Those comments were appearing in newspapers here and around the country. All well and good. But the content of Angelos' explanation offered the feeling he was blaming Oates for the misunderstanding, almost divesting himself of responsibility by the way he dealt with the matter.

It was remindful of the tact of a wise courtroom attorney who, in the midst of trying a case, cleverly took the onus off his client and put it on the opposition. The message from Angelos might have been intended as an apology but, unfortunately, it didn't read as one.

What caused Oates to be uptight, without question, was the lack support he was getting from the boss man, Angelos, who never played baseball but deceived himself into believing he knew the game. Oates played and managed professionally for 22 years and knew the difference between a resin bag and a bat bag.

The heat Angelos created made for added pressure and, more than anything else, put Oates' feet to the fire. Hopefully, the owner will come to find out that managers need support, especially from the man who is invested with the authority to fire them. Angelos elected to criticize Oates, not back him.

Most owners realize it goes with the territory for the press and public to sound off about the manager. But the owner should be above acting like a fan in the stands, who vents his fury when a pitcher gets rocked or runners are left on base. His role is to be a stabilizing force.

There's no reason to canonize Oates. However, his admirable characteristics are exemplary. If the rest of the world had them, there would be no need for armies or police forces. The way he went about publicly thanking Angelos, rather than ripping him, was typical. It was a sincere expression of gratitude, nothing phony.

Oates went to the absolute extreme in voicing similar appreciation to the coaches, players and front office for helping him during his three years with the Orioles. And about Baltimore, he kept saying "a wonderful town, a wonderful town." He emphasized the respect he held for men and women in the office who made his job easier and said that Roland Hemond, Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin had been superb in furnishing the talent he put in the lineup.

He also mentioned a former club president by saying, "I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Larry Lucchino."

That was the way he went out, without a negative word. But that's Johnny Oates. Right now, he's saying a prayer of thanksgiving, in his own spiritual way, for Angelos and what he believes was the enjoyment he experienced as Orioles manager during the owner's one-year regime -- even if he got fired by him.

There's a distinct feeling the man Oates worked for never got to know him.

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