George, Angelos acting like Steinbrenner

September 29, 1994|By BILL TANTON

The day after Peter Angelos bought the Orioles, an old friend of mine, Frank Daily, approached me at the local supermarket.

"I go way back with Pete Angelos, even before he was on the City Council," said Daily, who for many years was involved in local politics. "I know Pete real good.

"You mark my word -- before it's all over, Pete's going to make George Steinbrenner look like a priest."

I remembered that not because I believed it but because it was a funny line.

Imagine another owner making the controversial New York Yankees boss look like a priest. Impossible!

No way will Angelos do that, I thought. Not our self-made multimillionaire lawyer. Not Pete, the ol' Highlandtown boy who's going to see to it that the Orioles remain in Baltimore forever.

Well, here we are little more than a year later, and Angelos is the controversial owner and Steinbrenner, while not looking quite priestly, is looking a lot better.

Angelos' firing of Johnny Oates this week was Steinbrenner-like, and maybe worse than George ever did.

Losing managers get fired. Oates was winning.

The Orioles were 63-49 when the players strike began Aug. 12, but the Yankees -- and, my, how much better they're doing with Boss Steinbrenner in a quieter role -- were 6 1/2 games ahead of them.

The Orioles, with Oates as manager, have improved steadily. When Frank Robinson was replaced by Oates as manager during the 1991 season, the club was terrible.

This year the Orioles were on a pace to win 91 games. Managers who win 91 games don't get fired.

We all know that Angelos spent liberally for free agents this year to "buy a pennant," as they used to say about Steinbrenner's approach.

But two of the new acquisitions -- Sid Fernandez and Chris Sabo -- did little or nothing. Two others -- Rafael Palmeiro and Lee Smith -- did a lot.

Still, the Orioles were short of pitching, and the Yankees seemed destined to win the AL East anyway.

Angelos has adopted a lot of Steinbrenner's old ways. Buy a pennant. Fire a bunch of people (more than one-third of those who were employed by the organization when Angelos took over are gone now).

Now Angelos is looking for a manager who can win the pennant for him. Guarantee you, if Billy Martin were alive Angelos would hire him. Yes, Billy Martin, whom Steinbrenner hired and fired six times.

Oates? Don't worry about him.

If he does nothing, he'll be paid his $700,000 salary in '95 -- even if there is no '95 season.

Oates will do something. He's a good man and a good manager. He was voted AL Manager of the Year by his peers a year ago. Jobs are opening in both major leagues. At the very least, he'll be a coach somewhere.

Oates' good friend, Sparky Anderson, has advised John not to take the first offer that comes along; the next phone call may bring a better one.

Oates will be better off elsewhere. In effect, he was on his way out here the day Angelos took over. Oates simply is not Angelos' kind of manager. Period. It was never going to work for those two.

Roland Hemond had as much to do with the firing as you or I did. He was merely the messenger.

If Bill DeWitt had bought the Orioles instead of Angelos, how different things would have been.

Cincinnatian DeWitt was Angelos' competition to buy the club. Naturally I was for Angelos, the local owner, especially after having endured New Yorker Eli Jacobs.

On the day the Orioles were sold at auction in New York for $173 million, DeWitt joined forces with Angelos, with Pete, as the biggest investor, assuming control.

DeWitt grew up in baseball and understands the game. Neither can be said about Pete Angelos, who has worked hard all his life as a lawyer and politician and was merely a casual baseball fan.

With DeWitt calling the shots, Hemond would not be being pushed aside -- kicked upstairs, as they say -- and Oates could have had a long tenure in Baltimore.

None of that is to be, of course, and now the focus is on the hiring of a new manager.

Oakland's Tony La Russa is at the top of Angelos' wish list, but is Angelos at the top of La Russa's? Probably not.

Soon-to-be-free agent La Russa, with a reputation as the best manager in baseball, is in the driver's seat. He can extract a fantastic deal to stay in Oakland. He can go to Boston and manage the Red Sox.

Or he can come here and manage for a meddling owner.

Which do you think he'll do?

If money alone will do the trick, La Russa will come to Baltimore. Angelos, who overpaid for the club, will pay whatever it takes to land La Russa. Peter's ego won't allow anyone to outbid him.

Baltimore had its best clubs when Jerry Hoffberger was owner and let the baseball people run things.

It's just the opposite here today. That promises to be a continuing problem.

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