Regan wants 2nd chance Ex-O's manager aims to get back to majors

March 20, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Within a week after he was fired as Orioles manager last October, Phil Regan had several attractive offers in hand. He could've been a pitching coach, a special assistant to a general manager, a scout.

But Regan wanted to manage again. He waited a little longer, and when the opportunity arose for him to become the manager of the Albuquerque Dukes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he jumped at the chance.

"I didn't go to Baltimore to manage one year," said Regan, 58. "I didn't put in all that effort, 10 years of managing in winter ball, to manage the Orioles just one year and say, 'I can't do that.' I want to manage in the big leagues.

"You know, I say to a lot of my players [in Triple-A], 'You're all working to get to the big leagues.' Well, I'm working to get to the big leagues."

He wants a second chance. In fall 1994, Regan was the most-sought-after managerial prospect in the game, pursued by the Orioles, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. Given a two-year contract by the Orioles, he prepared for 1995, reading reports on the players he would manage.

But the players' strike delayed and eventually shortened spring training, and Regan said he is convinced this hurt him and the team, because he was forced to make judgments on players with little first-hand knowledge.

"There were certain circumstances that didn't give us a chance to evaluate right," he said. "I've been here [at Dodgers camp] watching players for more than two weeks, and you're evaluating all the time. Last year, we had five days of watching players until we started playing.

"I don't want to get on guys, but Leo Gomez was not a great third baseman. Bret Barberie was not a great second baseman. Jeffrey Hammonds was hurt.

"There's no doubt [the shortened spring] hurt us. If we had 30 days of spring training, I think we would've realized Andy Van Slyke couldn't play anymore, we would've known Matt Nokes couldn't play. . . . You can read all the scouting reports you want, but that's no substitute for seeing players in person."

Regan said that former Dodgers general manager Al Campanis gave him advice on putting together a team. "He said, 'If you go into spring training and you have one spot that is a weakness, you can fill the spot. If you have three or four, you can't do it.'

"Everyone thought we were an underachieving team. My thoughts were that this was not that great a ballclub. . . . We could've done well if we didn't have the injuries."

Injuries hurt performance

There were injuries. Sid Fernandez had arm troubles early and didn't win a game for the Orioles before being released. Ben McDonald went down with shoulder trouble, and won only three games. Kevin Brown missed a month after suffering a dislocated right index finger when he tried to bare-hand a line drive. The Orioles played better in the final weeks of the season, after trading for pitcher Scott Erickson and slugger Bobby Bonilla. "We had a fairly good ballclub by the end of the season," Regan said. "I look at the five guys [in the rotation] who we thought were going to win, and they didn't."

Some players apparently felt distanced from Regan, particularly early in the season. Since he was fired, some, including Mike Mussina, have criticized Regan for poor communication.

Regan said: "My only regret is that if I had more time with the players [from the start of spring training] and that way I could've gotten to know them better and they could've gotten to know me better. I had a lot of nice calls from players after [the firing]."

Regan wouldn't talk about the decision of owner Peter Angelos to fire him after the Orioles finished 71-73. "I don't want to get into that," he said. "I don't want it to sound like sour grapes."

Still follows Orioles

He has been following the Orioles , and said they should be a strong contender in the AL East. In their last meeting in October, he and Angelos talked about what the team needed to do in the off-season a second baseman, improved defense, the addition of left-handers to the rotation and the new regime has taken steps to solve those problems.

"I think they've made some excellent moves," he said. "They've addressed everything they needed, getting [Mike] Devereaux, [B. J.] Surhoff, the pitchers they signed. They helped themselves in every area. . . . You look at that lineup that's a pretty good lineup, top to bottom. If Hammonds is healthy, that could be a big key. We thought he could be an impact player, and he gives them the extra outfielder they needed."

Every day it seems, Regan said, Armando Benitez pitches a shutout inning and strikes out a couple. "That's the maturing process," he said. "He's a year older."

New manager Davey Johnson, Regan said, "is going to do a great job, because he's a great manager. I really hope they do well.

"I don't have a bad feeling about managing the Orioles. I just wish we had a little more time."

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