Orioles top standings in passing buck

September 27, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The 1998 season was an embarrassment. The fans are as disgusted as they've been in a decade. But don't ask for accountability down at 333 W. Camden St.

Two words you'll never hear from the Orioles:

My fault.

The owner blames the front office, and vice versa. The manager blames the players, and vice versa. Everyone blames injuries, because that's the easiest excuse of all.

"Certainly, I'm accountable, but so are the players," manager Ray Miller said Friday night. "I'll take some of the blame, but I won't take it all."

Point a finger -- it's the new Oriole Way.

When will someone, anyone, acknowledge the obvious?

This team is seriously flawed, from top to bottom.

Owner Peter Angelos has driven out Jon Miller, Davey Johnson, Pat Gillick, Kevin Malone and Doug Melvin, yet would have you believe that he is an innocent victim.

Ray Miller has presided over losing streaks of 10, nine and eight games, not to mention this final 2-10 collapse, but the last place he looks is in the mirror.

And then there are the players, the wonderful players who demonstrated the collective soul of a Chihuahua, lying down at the first hint of adversity all season long.

Many play solely to win -- most notably Eric Davis, Harold Baines, Mike Bordick, B. J. Surhoff, Jesse Orosco and Mike Mussina. But as a group, they formed the least likable Orioles team in recent memory.

Miller occasionally complained when they ducked reporters rather than take responsibility. The only times they were certain to go public was when it served their self-interest.

The players bristled at criticism of their indifferent play, lobbied to keep the team intact, told everyone how great they were. And they fooled the equally arrogant brain trust into believing that they could rally from a 15 1/2 -game wild-card deficit.

Good riddance to all of them.

All losing organizations struggle with accountability, but with the Orioles the problem runs much deeper.

The manager is overmatched. The clubhouse is devoid of leadership. And the front-office chain of command is so blurred, it's impossible to know which executives are responsible for which moves.

Gillick and Malone deserve their share of blame, but how much? They would argue that Angelos and vice chairman Joe Foss never allowed them to put their plans in place.

And Angelos, in his familiar postseason, spin-control mode, would argue that they weren't as smart as everyone thought.

"Even a talented person like Pat can't be expected to call all of them right," Angelos said.

Nor can a talented person like Angelos.

It stands to reason that Miller should be held to the same standard as Gillick and Malone, but Angelos isn't ready to admit his mistake. At least for now, Miller remains The Chosen One.

The truth is, he never should have been hired, and the next general manager will figure it out quickly, not that it will make any immediate difference.

The players didn't like Johnson, but most respected him. Miller is held in less esteem. He's insecure, managing by statistics, lacking confidence in his judgment.

Johnson was just the opposite -- he'd go against the numbers just to show how smart he was, with the '97 Division Series against Seattle serving as his piece de resistance.

Still, Miller's lineups and pitching moves are the least of it. Perhaps an even more important measure of a '90s manager is his ability to work the clubhouse and motivate players.

By that standard, Miller was a dismal flop.

Johnson kept his players constantly on edge. Miller defended them relentlessly as they sleepwalked through the first half. He allowed existing double standards to widen. And when he turned more confrontational, he came on too strong.

A case in point occurred during a team meeting in Chicago on Aug. 27. Roberto Alomar reportedly erupted at criticism by Miller, believing that he was being singled out when others -- most notably Brady Anderson -- were not.

Alomar's lethargic play often appeared a direct reflection of his pouting over such slights. That's disgraceful, especially from a player the club defended so vehemently after the John Hirschbeck spitting incident.

But if Miller had a problem with Alomar, he should have addressed him privately.

Better yet, the matter should have been handled internally, before Miller felt compelled to scream.

Cal Ripken is the only player with enough stature and tenure to police the clubhouse. But it is a role he has never embraced, to the detriment of the team.

Ripken counsels teammates quietly, but where is he when Alomar fails to play hard, when his buddy Anderson skirts team rules, such as the dress code, and when the entire team needs a kick in the rear?

Doesn't he recognize that all this reflects on him, too?

Nah, he's an Oriole.

It's not his fault.

The Orioles try to pad their stats; the New York Yankees try to pad their victory total. The Orioles trot out All-Stars who play like journeymen; the Boston Red Sox trot out journeymen who play like All-Stars.

The bottom line of the 1998 season is that the Orioles should have been good enough to compete with both those teams, but didn't even come close.

They can deny culpability, but they can't deny the standings.

Like it or not, they're all at fault.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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