With Twins, Miller met frustration Manager didn't last to see finished project

November 12, 1997|By Peter Schmuck and Roch Kubatko | Peter Schmuck and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

It has taken nearly 12 years to get a second chance, and new Orioles manager Ray Miller wants to make it work this time. He managed the Minnesota Twins for parts of 1985 and 1986, but it wasn't a particularly positive experience.

The Twins were a developing team and Miller was a rookie manager, fresh off the Orioles' coaching staff and eager to take the next logical step in the on-field progression of a top-flight major-league coach. He had cut his teeth under Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, but the Oriole Way just didn't play on a team that was still under construction.

Miller was frustrated by the organization's unwillingness to balance the roster with added pitching depth and veteran talent. Club officials apparently were frustrated by Miller's unwillingness to understand the constraints they were working under. The result was an unfriendly parting that featured broadsides from both sides and some lingering bad blood between Miller and then-Twins president Howard Fox.

"It was right at that point in time when salaries were skyrocketing and the concept of small market vs. large market was first being talked about," Miller said. "I guess I was a little [naive] then. I made about 76 appearances in the winter promising the people of Minnesota that we would do everything possible to put a winning team on the field. Then I asked for a leadoff hitter, a closer and another pitcher, and I didn't get it."

The Twins went on to win the World Series the year after he was fired with a 59-80 record, but the front office had made many of the improvements that Miller requested before he was relieved of his duties. He had a 109-130 record.

"I take no credit for the World Series," Miller said, "but I take tremendous pride in the fact that we put a program in place there. The coaching staff I left behind has the longest tenure of any one in baseball, which is something I'm very proud of."

Miller has mellowed some since then, but still bears some scars from his first attempt to manage in the majors. Time may have softened the memory of those 15 months in the mid-1980s, but not the resolve to prove that he was the right man for the job then and the right man to lead the Orioles now.

"I don't think I'm looking for vindication," he said, "but I thought I did a lot better than people thought I did."

There were some bridges burned in Minnesota -- and some players who felt that Miller unjustly blamed them for the club's underachievement in 1986 -- but others remember him as a capable guy cast in a difficult situation.

"He stepped into a tough situation talent-wise," former Twins outfielder Randy Bush said. "A manager's only going to be as good as the talent he has, and we weren't very talented at that point. But he was very fair. His door was always open, and he was easy to talk to. He was open-minded and was able to give guys a chance and then sit back and make his own evaluations, and I think it's very important to have that objectivity as a &L manager. You have to respect that."

Miller didn't have a tough act to follow in Minnesota. Instead, he was followed by one -- Tom Kelly, who won two world championships and has the longest tenure of any active manager in the majors. Miller naturally pales in comparison, which further clouds his days with the Twins.

"I thought he did all right, but I played for one of the best managers, if not the best, in Tom Kelly," said Kent Hrbek, a first baseman who retired after the 1994 season. "He wasn't a Tom Kelly, just the way he approached the players and approached the game himself. As far as getting along with the manager, I think people got along a lot better with T.K. than they did with Ray. But Ray wasn't there that long, so we didn't get to know him that well.

"Minnesota was a very different place than coming from Baltimore. I think he wanted to change some things, and some things didn't work the way he wanted. I don't think he left on a bad note or anything like that. I wish the best of everything for Ray. He's a nice guy, a great guy. Ray was even at my wedding."

Former catcher Tim Laudner said Kelly benefited from having established a relationship with many of the players in the minor leagues and as third base coach under Miller, who was viewed as an outsider.

"When Ray came in, he respected the fact that the coaching staff was fairly intact and he left it that way, which is good and bad," said Laudner, who retired seven years ago and runs the heating division for a plumbing and heating company in Minneapolis. "It's good for the people who are in there, but probably didn't work to Ray's advantage because they weren't Ray's people. And you know how that works in baseball.

"I'm not saying those coaches didn't go out of their way, but there was a little bit of friction between Ray and the existing pitching coach, Johnny Podres."

Hrbek referred to similar problems, noting Miller's tendency to focus his attention on the pitching staff.

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