Dempsey may be popular choice, but not sensible one

September 29, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

If you're a Rick Dempsey fan, you want to remember him roaring through the 1983 World Series, clowning through rain delays, romping through "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll."

You don't want to remember him as another fired Orioles manager.

Let's stop this Dempsey madness before it starts. He'd make a great cheerleader, but why would anyone think he'd make a great manager?

If this were a popularity contest, we'd all pick the Demper.

Alas, it's a search for the man who will lead the Orioles into the 21st century, and Dempsey isn't qualified.

"I honestly believe if Peter Angelos and his sons are going to second-guess the manager publicly like they did last year, you need someone with an excellent track record, and Rick Dempsey doesn't have that," says Dempsey's former teammate, Jim Palmer.

Tony La Russa managed in three World Series.

Davey Johnson won a Series with Sid Fernandez.

Dempsey imitated Babe Ruth, spelled out O-R-I-O-L-E-S, belly-flopped on wet tarps.

Who gets the next interview?

Max Patkin? Wild Bill Hagy?

Two years in the minors, that's the extent of Dempsey's experience. Earl Weaver managed 12 years in the minors. Johnny Oates managed only three, but also served six seasons as a major-league coach.

Dempsey was 52 games under .500 with an awful team at Single-A, then won the Pacific Coast League with a loaded team at Triple-A. Neither result merits anything more than a shrug.

In between, he managed a winter-league club in Puerto Rico, where he squabbled with Brad Pennington and several Latin players -- just what the Orioles need.

Still, Dempsey has his backers.

Former Orioles GM Hank Peters: "He's one of those tireless workers, a great, outgoing person, a people person -- a little different from Johnny Oates."

Pittsburgh's Rick White (Dempsey's closer in Puerto Rico): "I thought he was a good guy. The thing I liked about him is that he was hard-nosed. He makes you play hard."

Former Oriole Tippy Martinez: "He's a fiery guy. His big asset would be his ability to get a team up, get them going."

Former Oriole Mike Flanagan: "Of course, he'd be a good manager -- especially with his ability to handle the media. The rest of it, he has patterned himself after Earl."

Dempsey might prove every bit as colorful as Weaver, riding his players, arguing with umpires. But as a strategist, it's difficult to imagine him as a worthy heir.

No one pointed at Dempsey during his three decades of catching and said, "There's a future manager." He didn't call a good game. And he occasionally suffered mental lapses.

Remember the ceremony after the final game at Memorial Stadium, when Dempsey went into his crouch and put down a sign for the 50 pitchers on the mound?

"It was incredible," Flanagan joked then. "All 50 of us shook him off."

Former Oriole Mike Boddicker recalls one incident in which he summoned Dempsey and Cal Ripken to the mound and said he wanted to throw a curveball.

"He went behind the plate, and I almost balked because he put down a fastball," Boddicker says. "I stepped off and told him to start over, and he put down a fastball again.

"We had a guy on second. I turned around and looked at Ripken. He had his arms folded. He was just shaking his head.

"After putting a fastball down a third time, he stood up and slapped the side of his head, went 'Oh!' and put down a curveball."

Now, is this a man you want matching wits with Buck Showalter?

Dempsey would grow so distracted during games, he would put on two sets of shinguards, or start giving signs without putting down his mask.

"He was thinking about his hitting most of the time when he was back there," Boddicker says, chuckling. "Most of these things happened when he had made an out the half-inning before."

In Dempsey's defense, playing is different from managing. What's more, it doesn't take a genius to be a manager -- the Orioles won a World Series with Joe "Cement Head" Altobelli.

"For all the people who say Rick wouldn't be smart enough, maybe they should talk about Davey John

son, because if I'm not mistaken, his name was 'Dum-dum' when he played for the Orioles, and he turned out to be a pretty good manager," says former Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller, now with the Pirates.

Adds Peters: "It's a lot of crap. A lot of it goes back to Earl making cracks about him. You've got to give some credit where credit is due. The Orioles won an awful lot of games with Rick Dempsey behind the plate."

They also won a lot of games with Todd Cruz at third base, but never mind.

Dempsey appeals to Angelos because of his public-relations value. He's the Anti-Johnny -- feisty, emotional and popular. He's also a throwback to the glory days, the Oriole Way.

Just imagine a coaching staff packed with former Orioles -- Flanagan (pitching), Lee May (hitting), Al Bumbry (first), Rich Dauer (third) and Cal Ripken Sr. (bench).

It's an intriguing thought -- Flanagan, in particular, would make an excellent replacement for Dick Bosman. But is the goal to put together the best staff in baseball, or the best fantasy camp?

Nostalgia has no place in this decision.

We all love the Demper.

That doesn't mean he should be manager.

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