King of hill rarely reigns as manager

November 08, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Ray Miller is a great pitching coach.

That doesn't mean he'll make a good manager.

If Peter Angelos cared to study major-league history, he'd probably notice that pitching coaches rarely make a smooth transition to the top job.

The Orioles' owner should have learned that with Phil Regan, but now he appears poised to hire Miller, who flopped as a manager with Minnesota in 1985-86.

For whatever reasons, most pitching specialists possess too narrow a perspective to implement the broad vision required of a manager.

There have been exceptions -- Fred Hutchinson and Bob Lemon, Tom Lasorda and Roger Craig.

But Houston's Larry Dierker and Tampa Bay's Larry Rothschild are the only current managers with pitching backgrounds.

Miller?

He's better suited to manage at 52 than he was at 40. He has served the past 11 seasons under Jim Leyland and Johnson, and won four division titles.

"That's a lot of baseball," he said last night. "It's just being older, for one thing. I'd be a little less reactive to things, understand everything a lot more."

Still, he'd be entering a hornet's nest.

What's the new measure of success for an Orioles manager? Sitting Cal Ripken? Winning more games than Johnson? Keeping Angelos happy?

Good luck on each count.

The Orioles want continuity. The Orioles lack big-name options. The Orioles need to get a manager in place before the Nov. 18 expansion draft.

Of the in-house candidates, Miller is probably a safer choice than hitting coach Rick Down, who is perceived as too high-strung, too intense.

Down, however, was a highly successful Triple-A manager for the New York Yankees, and he interviewed for the Toronto and Tampa Bay jobs.

Even without major-league experience, he's a hotter managerial candidate than Miller, who was 109-130 in parts of two seasons with the Twins.

In Miller's defense, his positive approach worked with the Orioles' pitchers last season, and he also gained the respect of the position players.

"I think I'm a little bit different than most pitching coaches," he said. "I've got a great rapport with everyone. I think I'm respected as a baseball man as much as a pitching coach."

In the Orioles' dream of dreams, he'd be Joe Torre to Johnson's Buck Showalter, and this entire mess would be forgotten.

Torre was fired three times before the Yankees hired him in 1996. He was criticized as a retread, a George Steinbrenner flunkie. But he won a World Series in his first season.

The difference is, Torre had 13 years of experience, and won a division title with Atlanta in '82. Miller didn't even last his first full season in Minnesota.

Granted, it was more than a decade ago. But some of the players viewed Miller as a self-promoter. The front office didn't like him much, either.

Andy MacPhail, then the Twins' assistant GM, stormed out of the visitors' dugout in Detroit before pre-game stretching one day in 1986.

"Boy, I'm tired of constantly hearing that we need to do this and we need to do that," MacPhail said, within earshot of third base coach Tom Kelly.

MacPhail had just come from a meeting with Miller. Kelly was the manager by the end of the season.

"I don't know if Andy was saying that for my benefit or if he was letting off steam," Kelly said several years later.

"Either way, it's something I remembered, because a few weeks later, a change was made."

Miller ripped the Twins' front office and players upon his departure. Some of his memories are still less than fond.

"We had a GM [Howard Fox] who had been the traveling secretary," he said. "Coming from Baltimore, I had Hank Peters, I was used to the Oriole Way. If a [manager] needed help, everyone would be on board.

"We'd go on the road, get an injury and I couldn't get hold of the GM until the next day. I'd find him on the golf course, and the first question he'd ask was, 'Did you win last night?' That really deflated you."

But by '87, MacPhail had replaced Fox and the Twins had acquired the kinds of players Miller had wanted -- Dan Gladden to lead off and play left field, Jeff Reardon and Juan Berenguer to strengthen the bullpen.

They won their first of two World Series that season, and Kelly was portrayed as the anti-Miller, a low-key sort who deflected praise to his players.

He now has the longest tenure among active major-league managers.

"I think anytime you go from being 20 games under .500 to having your team in first place, there's more than one reason," MacPhail said in June of '87.

"But if you pin me down to one reason, I'd have to give a lot of credit to Kelly. Our guys want to play for Tom. The way he runs the game, we've probably manufactured more runs than we did all of last year."

Again, it was more than a decade ago.

Miller would work with a superior GM and superior talent in Baltimore. He'd also be more Angelos' guy than any of the three managers before him.

The question is, how long would it last?

Johnson lost many of his players when he tangled with Ripken and others in his first year, and regained his clubhouse standing last season only after pulling back.

Miller carries far less stature, yet likely would face even more difficult issues. The end of Ripken's consecutive-games streak might be one. Even if Angelos gave Miller his full support, many of the players would side with Ripken.

The pressure to win next season arguably will be greater than ever, with Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and general manager Pat Gillick among those in the final years of their contracts.

Ray Miller might be the logical choice to replace Johnson, but hiring him would weaken the two most important positions on a major-league staff -- pitching coach and manager.

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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