As driving force, Angelos puts pedal to the meddle

September 30, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

Johnny Oates hasn't even typed up his resume, and the Orioles have interviewed four candidates to replace him. They're sprinting to find a new manager, which is fine except that they won't really need one until the owners and players shake hands on a labor agreement in 1998.

If the club were still owned by Eli "Penny Saved, Penny Earned" Jacobs in such a situation, there would be no manager until there was a labor settlement. Why pay a guy to do nothing when the owner's management fee is due?

But, of course, Eli is out of our lives now. Peter Angelos owns the club. And he has some opinions about the kind of manager he wants. You may have noticed.

Although he is letting Roland Hemond handle the interviewing, Angelos has asked that each of the candidates fill out a questionnaire he has prepared. The potential jurors in the O. J. Simpson trial had to answer 75 pages of questions. The potential Orioles managers just have to answer a few.

* Don't you think it is an excellent idea to play Leo Gomez at third base every day?

* There isn't a darn thing wrong with the owner letting his sons have a say in personnel decisions, is there?

* True or false: It makes perfect sense to fire the manager of a team on a pace to win 91 games.

* If an owner pays $173 million for a team, he can demand a) anything he wants, b) whatever he wants, or c) both of the above.

* Lawyers are OK, right?

* Don't you think it is an excellent idea to play Leo Gomez at third base every day?

The candidates had best be careful when they sit down with pencil in hand. One wrong answer will kill their chances. Angelos has demonstrated in the past year that he has a clear idea of what the manager's feelings should be on these issues.

All of which raises a question worth asking as the Orioles shuffle through the many candidates for manager: Does it really matter which one they hire?

No. It doesn't. Not if the owner hasn't learned from his mistakes of the past year.

No matter if the club hires a manager who is blunt, cerebral, feisty, youthful, experienced, whatever -- if he is harassed as consistently as Angelos harassed Oates, he will be paralyzed and ineffectual. And an ex-manager soon enough.

Understand, Angelos has every right to be involved in the hiring of the manager. When someone spends as much as he did for a team, he should be happy with its composition.

But once he has a manager in place, he should disappear into his luxury box and leave the guy alone.

He shouldn't have a say in any on-field decisions, such as who plays third base. That's a classic blueprint for failure.

And to terrorize his manager publicly, as Angelos did Oates, is completely unfair. It ruins the manager's standing in the fTC clubhouse, a damaging thing.

Does Angelos understand that he erred in his boorish treatment of Oates? Doubt it. He thinks Oates was just an insecure man who couldn't take the heat.

Angelos is like many successful, self-made people: He is utterly self-assured, convinced that he is always right and always smarter than the next guy. He has little respect for the expertise of Oates, Hemond or anyone else who has spent a life in baseball. He thinks he knows as much as they do.

The problem is that he doesn't know as much as they do. Not even close. There are sportswriters who know more about baseball than he does. What an insult, huh?

It doesn't bode well for the future. Angelos probably is not going to change. He will continue to spend aggressively and try to win, which is good. And he will continue to meddle, which is bad.

The only hope for Orioles fans is that he will pipe down once the club is being run by a manager he hired. Maybe Angelos will have more respect for his guy and stay out of the way, creating a healthier environment.

Doubt it.

But we'll see.

Meanwhile, the Orioles shuffle through candidates. It's an easy race to handicap. Phil Regan? Bill Virdon? Angelos doesn't even know who they are. Davey Lopes? No experience. Rick Dempsey? The baseball people don't want him, but he's tempting to an owner who wants to re-create 1979. Davey Johnson? Good manager. Best choice. But Marge Schott will want a settlement to let him out of the last months of his contract.

Tony La Russa?

It would be interesting.

"You better play Gomez!" the owner would cry.

"Go take a walk!" the manager would shout.

And either Angelos would go away, never to meddle again, or the questionnaire would come back out of his drawer and we'd start all over again. Again.

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