Miller looks back, finds front-office disarray a culprit After O's top Sox, manager says status of Gillick, Malone a factor in decline

September 27, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Too late to salvage a winning record, manager Ray Miller began to place the Orioles' frustrating season into perspective yesterday.

After Scott Erickson and a rejuvenated offense powered past the Boston Red Sox, 5-2, at Fenway Park, Miller strongly suggested that front office uncertainty factored in the first-half meltdown that pushed baseball's costliest roster toward a fourth-place finish. Ending a six-game slide while winning for the second time in 12 games helped Miller's mood. Still, the overall impression holds.

Increasingly vocal in his disapproval over lacking "accountability" players, Miller refrained from overtly criticizing outgoing general manager Pat Gillick and former assistant general manager Kevin Malone but made clear his frustration.

"It seemed like there was a lot of indecision in the middle there," said Miller before taking a long pause then adding, "There's a lot that has to be done. And a lot of that is the GM's job. But together I think we have to formulate some 'due dates' on players and analyze your system as soon as possible and come up with a realistic due date that a certain player might be able to help you -- not just as a bench player, but somewhere in your

lineup. It's just a timetable, a semi-plan."

Though Gillick will remain with the organization through most of next month, the Orioles clearly find themselves an organization in flux.

Malone devised several off-season contingencies before accepting the job as Los Angeles Dodgers general manager, but little can be implemented before the arrival of Gillick's successor.

Miller has expressed increased dissatisfaction over a perceived lack of intensity and focus by several veterans. In Toronto during the first leg of this seven-game road trip, Miller hinted personnel changes may be more extensive than widely suspected. Chief operating officer Joe Foss joined the club here yesterday and met at length with Miller. With Foss in his office after the game, Miller admitted, "I've suppressed a lot this year. I'm not going to next year."

Yesterday's win, which included four home runs and all five RBIs by three of the club's eight pending free agents, improved Miller's mood slightly. Left fielder B. J. Surhoff homered twice for the second time in three games, giving him a career-high 22. Right fielder Eric Davis hit his 28th homer and second baseman Roberto Alomar capped a marvelous performance with a bases-empty shot in the eighth inning.

Confirming his status as league workhorse by making his 36th start, Erickson (16-13) outlasted Red Sox starter Bret Saberhagen (15-8) for seven innings.

Alan Mills and Armando Benitez covered the last six outs. It may have been the last appearance by Mills in an Orioles uniform. Others, including Alomar, Davis and Rafael Palmeiro, may experience the sensation today.

Miller has emphasized to Foss the need for better communication between departments, especially the major-league and player-development sides.

"Before you have a true focus on where you're going, you have to know what you've got," said Miller.

Likewise, Miller has chafed for much of this season about the front office's uncertain status and complained about receiving too little help for a pitching staff devastated by injuries. A string of organizational washouts -- Bobby Munoz, Nerio Rodriguez, Richie Lewis, Radhames Dykhoff, etc. -- only intensified a sense of helplessness.

"I've had a lot of thoughts since about mid-May," Miller admitted.

Despite the team's recent meltdown, Miller remains a central part of organizational planning. He will remain in Baltimore for several weeks and be given a role in the upcoming interviews of general manager finalists.

"The thing I want for '99 is for everybody to be on the same page coaches, front office, manager, everybody," Miller said.

Mindful that criticism of this season has extended from the clubhouse to the warehouse, Miller defended the role of majority owner Peter Angelos, who provided for a $69.7 million payroll and has received a 79-82 record in return. Describing Angelos' support as "outstanding," Miller emphasized that he has been allowed to run the club without ownership attempting to impose its will.

"I've sat here for six months and I've not gotten one phone call from him -- not one -- telling me to do this or do that," said Miller. "Every week or two weeks I call and I'm asked what I want, and I tell him."

Angelos has been similarly protective of Miller, whom he has indicated will return for the second year of his two-year contract.

"The only thing [Angelos] wants to do is win, and we haven't done that. There are a lot of variables as to why," said Miller, adding. "What's gone on the last week I've been very unhappy with, but at the same time I've got a list of 12 or 13 people who don't know whether they're going to be here, I don't know whether they're going to be here. It is kind of tough to say this is what we've got to do when guys look at you like, 'Are you going to sign me or what?' "

Orioles today

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 1: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (13-9, 3.44) vs. Red Sox's Pete Schourek (1-3, 4.61)

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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