Hot weather no sweat for Miller On the hot seat all season, he's cool with Texas heat

Inside the Orioles

July 19, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As the Dallas area endured its most oppressive heat wave in 17 summers, Ray Miller spent last Wednesday and Thursday afternoon walking inside The Ballpark Arlington. Virtually his entire team bagged early batting practice -- a true veteran move -- but Miller still paced the warning track wearing shorts and a sleeveless windbreaker.

By now, Miller is used to the heat.

Since a 10-2 start proved a lie, Miller has become the target of talk-show criticism and newspaper scrutiny. The consistent theme: He is the same manager who squandered an opportunity with Minnesota in 1985-86.

This season has frequently put Miller in a defensive, sometimes downright bad, mood. When he arrived in Fort Lauderdale last February he proudly told those who covered the team daily that he never read newspapers. "I don't need to hear how great I am and I don't want to hear how lousy I am," he explained.

But a wretched 28-48 stretch changed that. So did several pointed columns. Some of them made unflattering comparisons between him and predecessor Davey Johnson. Others accused him of coddling marquee names while confronting fringe players, although he and Brady Anderson nearly came to blows over the center fielder going on the disabled list. And there has been the inevitable description of him as a puppet for majority owner Peter Angelos.

"That bothered me a lot," Miller said of the Angelos metaphor. "I've always been my own man. In 21 years in the major leagues I've never backed down from anyone."

Miller now reads every comma, something his predecessor also came to do for different reasons.

Johnson pored over stories for hints of Angelos' mood. Miller speaks regularly with Angelos, a promise he made when he was hired. To those who perceive a "yes" man, Miller strikes back. Infuriated by one recent column, Miller said of the offending author, "He couldn't manage a 7-Eleven without help."

The embodiment of swagger, Johnson, 1997's AL Manager of the Year, lapped up criticism except when it involved game strategy. "I always bet on me," Johnson boasted, usually with cause.

To his credit, Miller rarely becomes peeved at tactical questions. However, relentless media scrutiny has worn on him.

"I haven't had a healthy rotation for almost the entire season," relates Miller. "I like this bench, but we haven't had everyone there, either."

Miller said he has slept poorly after only three losses. Others have observed questionable strategy in more games, and reliever Arthur Rhodes last week complained about the number of times he has been asked to warm. It is a shared complaint. Whereas Johnson arrived and almost immediately challenged clubhouse leaders Bobby Bonilla and Cal Ripken, Miller has adopted a more measured approach. At times he has managed defensively but more often has managed short-handed.

A decimated starting rotation, a poorly constructed bullpen and miserable performances from several position players never allowed Miller to work with a full tool box during the first half. Any grade would have to be made on a curve. Now his rotation is firming. Jimmy Key may return at month's end along with Scott Kamieniecki. The club apparently will be kept together in keeping with his wishes.

What Miller considered unfair assessments in June can now be predicated on his team's ability to win nine straight against three playoff contenders.

Miller says he now likes his team better than the Red Sox. Even without Harold Baines, Jeffrey Hammonds, Rhodes, Key and Kamieniecki, the Orioles steamrollered Boston, Toronto and Texas for their best streak since 1993.

The Orioles entered the weekend hitting .275, a season high. The time share between catchers Chris Hoiles and Lenny Webster has flowered. Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro aren't going anywhere until at least November.

For two weeks now, Miller has had his way on and off the field.

With the club's future put on hold, it is now his task to make the present work. Small wonder he found a stroll in 103-degree heat so invigorating.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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