If La Russa comes or not, Regan must go as manager

October 02, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

Let no one be swayed by the five straight shutouts, th bullying of inferior opponents, this exercise in stat padding disguised as a strong finish. Regardless of whether the Orioles can hire Tony La Russa, Phil Regan must go.

It isn't fair. Regan is a decent man. He had everything work against him this season. But even if the Orioles can't get La Russa, it would be pointless to delay the inevitable. The next general manager deserves a clean slate. And Regan amounts to so much baggage.

The team stunk, OK? The team stunk, and the players lost respect for the manager. Maybe that changed slightly these last few weeks, but the games didn't mean anything. And even then, Regan was jerking players in and out of the lineup, the better to humble International League competition.

Now, the Orioles have a clear shot at La Russa -- the Chicago White Sox dropped him in their laps yesterday, retaining Terry Bevington. Indeed, the Orioles might be the only other team La Russa would seriously consider, assuming he'd work for Peter Angelos, which is no lock.

That's where this gets sticky, because Angelos has no clear second choice, other than Regan. Oh, the Orioles could always hire Davey Johnson, soon to be out of work in Cincinnati. But that would require Angelos to admit his search committee blew it last year. Not likely.

So, who'd be left? Probably not Buck Showalter, probably not Jim Leyland and forget Sparky Anderson. Still, no matter how limited the Orioles' choices might appear, they'd be even more limited next May, when the team is in its usual early-season funk and Angelos really wants to fire Regan.

The Orioles would promote one of Regan's coaches, and another season would be wasted. Heck even if the team got off to a strong start, what difference would it make? Regan still wouldn't be the choice of the new GM. In most cases, that dooms an inherited manager.

If La Russa won't void his Oakland contract in this 10-day window, the proper thing to do would be to fire Regan so that the new GM could hire his own man. It would be unfair to force the GM to do the dirty work, especially since Regan is signed for '96, with a club option for '97.

The Orioles can reassign Regan to a scouting position, or Angelos can eat his contract, the way he did with Matt Nokes and Sid Fernandez. Politically, Regan must go, and professionally, too. The sooner Angelos realizes that, the better.

Regan can make valid excuses -- the shortened spring training, the injuries to key players, the adjustment period required for a first-year manager. But what was it he said when the Orioles released Nokes? "Guys always have a lot of excuses when they don't do well." So does the manager.

Everyone thought the season was over after the Orioles went 1-6 in New York and Boston, but on Aug. 29 their record was 54-59 -- the same as the New York Yankees. They were coming off a 7-3 West Coast trip, while the Yankees had gone 2-8 over the same stretch, all but collapsing.

What happened? The Orioles went 3-6 on a homestand that climaxed with the Cal Ripken celebration, then lost three straight in Cleveland. The Yankees, meanwhile, went 25-6 to end the season, earning a wild-card spot that seemed so out of reach at the start of September.

The Yankees had injuries just as devastating as the Orioles' -- Jimmy Key, Scott Kamieniecki, Melido Perez. They had their usual dozen controversies. And through it all, Showalter held them together.

This is what a strong manager does. This is what the Orioles require. None of the players will lead, so the manager carries an extra burden. Which is why the situation screams out for an accomplished veteran. It's difficult to imagine Regan winning his players -- or the fans -- back.

The players might like Regan, but that doesn't mean they respect him. Regan must have been kidding when he said, "Hey, Earl Weaver had hard words with players, and he was a great manager." Weaver had his players' respect. He also won, which added to his stature.

Regan's lack of a firm hand was evident in many ways, from the Orioles' wild swinging at the plate to their lax dress code on and off the field. Yes, the team had holes -- big holes. But can anyone say Regan got the most out of this group? His handling of the bullpen, in particular, was a horror.

The front office deserves a good share of the blame, but it went out and got Scott Erickson and then Bobby Bonilla (after Regan announced, "we need a hitter"). It's not like Regan lacked input on players. Curtis Goodwin was his idea. So was Jeff Manto, and by the end, he, too, was buried.

It would be one thing if the players jumped to Regan's defense. It would be another if he had shown the improvement you'd expect in a first-year manager. But these last two weeks only underscored how poorly the Orioles performed when the games mattered.

Keeping Regan is an endorsement of everything he did this season.

Keeping Regan is a denial of 71-73.

Keeping Regan is a cop-out.

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