Stability? O's moving in circles

October 21, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

As much as the Orioles players disliked Johnny Oates, they held an even lower opinion of Phil Regan. In both cases, their frustration was justified. But if Davey Johnson is the next manager and the team flops again next season, the players must be held accountable once and for all.

That's two managers down in 13 months, three in 4 1/2 years and six since 1985. Owner Peter Angelos dumped Oates, then formed the four-man search committee that selected Regan over Johnson. Now, Angelos is about to complete this ridiculous circle and hire Johnson to replace Regan.

"It's difficult from a stability standpoint," shortstop Cal Ripken said last night. "Every step forward we take, it always seems we take another step back. When you have change -- and we've had change a lot -- you're always starting over."

The problem starts at the top, and if Angelos blows it on the next general manager, this team could fall into a 10-year hole. Indeed, if he blows it on the next GM, it might be safe to conclude that this team will never win under his ownership.

Angelos declined to comment last night. Beautiful, isn't he? He wouldn't shut up the night Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record. But on the night he fired his manager and lost his GM, no one could get him to say a word beyond an official statement.

All that said, Regan still had to go. The only surprise yesterday was that Roland Hemond went with him, resigning as GM before Angelos could fire him. Hemond has a unique survivor's instinct -- he does whatever his boss tells him. But Angelos left him dangling for so long, even he got fed up.

The one encouraging thing is that the Orioles are about to hire a proven manager for the first time since bringing back Earl Weaver for his second, ill-fated tenure in '85. Regan, Oates and Cal Ripken Sr. had never managed in the majors. Frank Robinson had been fired twice.

Players sense weakness in a manager almost instinctively. They never related to Robinson's Hall of Fame persona. They turned on Oates after his managing began to reflect his insecurity. And they lost respect for Regan in almost record time.

"The very first couple of days of spring training, he started changing simple stuff, like the bunt defense," pitcher Mike Mussina said yesterday.

The day the changes were implemented, Mussina said he spoke with Ripken in the outfield during batting practice.

"Cal was disappointed in the way it was presented," Mussina said.

Later that afternoon, Ripken persuaded Regan that, in a shortened spring training, with three of the four starting infielders returning, the old ways would work best.

Regan reversed himself the next day.

To Ripken, the whole thing was no big deal, "a small problem that had to be dealt with, and was." But to others, it was a watershed moment, the first indication that Regan was not ready to be a major-league manager.

"I know there were a lot of people upset," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "Moose is right by saying that. I think that's where it all started, right there."

Mussina was not alone in his displeasure -- there were rumblings of discontent all season, from Regan's heated exchanges with Matt Nokes and Brad Pennington to his public disputes with Ben McDonald and Kevin Brown.

"The very first day he said, 'I'm not big on team meetings,' " Mussina recalled. "Well, we had a team meeting every week."

Ripken, however, took a sympathetic view.

"It doesn't serve anyone to bash anyone -- ever," he said. "We all have certain ideas as individual players, a system we think is right based on our baseball experience.

"Phil had never managed. In a lot of ways, he was inexperienced. But just like [Tony] La Russa or Buck Showalter -- they had to go through a period where they learned things. It's hard to sit back in judgment and really get on anyone."

Hoiles agreed.

"I'm not going to sit here and condemn the guy, even though we may have had some differences, the team may have had some differences with him or he with us," Hoiles said.

"If he was here like Johnny for two or three years and continued to do the same things over and over again, then you might have something to say. But he was a first-year manager learning how to manage."

Mussina, too, conceded, "I don't believe it was entirely his fault." Indeed, teams occasionally win despite their manager -- see the Orioles in '83 under Joe Altobelli or the Boston Red Sox in '88 under Joe Morgan.

You could even make the case that the problem started with a front office that broke up a largely successful team and left a rookie manager to put the pieces back together.

Whoever is to blame, not even Mussina disputes that the players must be held accountable, too.

"Most of it's the players," Mussina said. "We're the ones that have to go on the field and do it. All we ask of the manager is that he put us in a position to succeed. If we do, so be it. If we don't, we're the ones that failed."

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