Rotten O's need fresh start, though Regan not all to blame American League

September 18, 1995|By John Eisenberg

Should the Orioles bring back Phil Regan next season? No. But not because he deserves to be fired.

True, he has disappointed in some ways as a rookie major-league manager, but the Orioles' poor season is attributable mostly to factors other than his performance. The booming boos he hears at Camden Yards are disproportionate to his impact on what went wrong. No one else wearing a uniform is getting booed, and the blame lies on many uniformed shoulders in addition to his.

Still, Regan is not without his share of the blame, and it is more than just an incidental share, and the club should hire a new manager in the off-season.

The change would be for institutional purposes, mostly. There is going to be a new general manager in town, long overdue, and the new GM should get to hire the manager he wants. That's the way real teams do it. Real teams have everyone on the same page. (Last year, the Orioles had a GM hired by Edward Bennett Williams and a manager hired by Eli Jacobs, being paid by Peter Angelos.)

And while it's sad that Regan needs to go after not really having had a chance to prove his mettle as a 57-year-old rookie, a new GM would be crazy to bring him back. For as much as Regan is a keen competitor and a worthy baseball man whose players let him down more than he let them down, he is damaged goods in this town. The fans can't stand him and the players obviously don't respect him.

Fairly or not, he stands as a symbol for the horror of 1995. Why keep humming such a bad tune?

A case for bringing him back could be built, understand, if he had exhibited special qualities as a tactician or communicator or motivator.

But he didn't. He overworked his bullpen, played too much lefty-righty, showed some tactical inconsistencies and, most importantly, failed to connect with the players.

The Orioles thought they were hiring another Jim Leyland with an old-fashioned style that would resonate with modern players, but it hasn't worked out that way. And it's too late now. Ben McDonald and Kevin Brown were out of line to show him such disrespect in public last week, but the fact that they felt comfortable showing it was evidence that the situation is beyond repair.

Why would a new GM want to keep such stale, counterproductive attitudes?

True, Regan's unpopularity with the players is probably just a function of losing; all managers are unpopular when results lag so far behind expectations. Yet no one could call Regan's performance inspiring this season. (When he pinch hit for Jeff Manto against Dennis Eckersley one night in late August, then used Manto as a pinch hitter against Eckersley the next night, the grumbling in the clubhouse was loud.)

Of course, any criticism of Regan should be counterbalanced by the fact that he had almost no chance to succeed this season. Doubt it? Look again.

Thanks to the strike and the shortened spring training, he had to rely almost solely on the opinions of his front office in putting together the club. And his front office told him that Armando Benitez and Brad Pennington were ready to pitch out of the bullpen. Horrible recommendations.

The front office also told him that Bret Barberie and Manny Alexander would be fine at second base, that Matt Nokes would be fine as a backup catcher, that Leo Gomez would be fine at third, that Andy Van Slyke would be a big help in center. Thanks, guys.

Then, once the season began, McDonald and Jeffrey Hammonds were injured and useless, Sid Fernandez was winless, Chris Hoiles didn't hit a lick and no one except Jeff Manto, Jesse Orosco and Rafael Palmeiro exceeded expectations. (Orosco was one of the few personnel recommendations Regan did make.)

The truth is that the 1995 Orioles were overrated to begin with; just because they cost all that money didn't mean they were put together well. Their leadoff hitter leads the team in strikeouts and there isn't a No. 2 hitter at all, so their batting order has major structural problems. Their defense is the weakest in recent memory, despite what the stats say. Only two members of their original starting rotation had winning records in 1994.

Regan has taken far too much of the heat for the collapse of this team with multiple flaws. But then, it's easier for fans to blame an unfamiliar manager instead of a familiar local hero such as Hoiles.

And it's always easier for players to blame the manager rather than accept blame themselves. The most prominent players who have criticized Regan -- Nokes, Van Slyke, Pennington, McDonald -- have all had miserable seasons.

Ah, well. It's all irrelevant at this point. A new GM is coming, which means Regan is going. Maybe it's not the fairest deal that ever came down, but the first law of life in the major leagues is that you have to do something with your chance when you get it. Regan didn't.

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