Crowley returns as O's let Down go Hitting 'adjustments' to improve, Miller says

October 07, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The toll for their fall-down season reached into the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday as the club dismissed hitting coach Rick Down and named former Orioles designated hitter and hitting coach Terry Crowley as his successor.

Crowley, 51, had served as Minnesota Twins hitting coach the past eight seasons but will rejoin the organization for whom he twice played and previously served as hitting coach under four managers from 1985 to '88.

"He's a lot like I was as a pitching coach -- very involved with every hitter," manager Ray Miller said. "As a player and as a coach, he was always a guy who could make adjustments. That's one thing we need to do. If a guy is pitching a certain way, you have to adjust. [Crowley] lives and dies with the hitters like I did with pitchers. If you're 0-for-4, he shares it with you."

Crowley, who has maintained a Baltimore residence since his playing career with the Orioles ended in 1982, received permission last week from Twins general manager Terry Ryan to discuss the anticipated opening with Miller.

Crowley and Miller have known each other for 20 years since Miller served as pitching coach in his first Orioles stint (1978-85) and Crowley as the most accomplished pinch hitter in club history. Few within the organization were surprised by the move, including Down, who was notified by Miller on Monday night.

"I can't say I'm shocked," said Down, "but you're still disappointed when you get that call. At least I can get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and be satisfied with the work I gave them. If Ray wants to move in a different direction, that's his prerogative."

Noting the team's inability to manufacture runs during last October's ALCS loss, Miller promised during spring training that the Orioles would break from their long-standing addiction to slugging and ponderous base running.

But such an approach required fresher legs and a different mind-set, neither of which could be found within the game's oldest clubhouse. Miller tried without success to force feed a National League-style offense to a team that ranked 13th in the league in stolen bases. Center fielder Brady Anderson led the club with 21 steals.

Offensive numbers nearly identical to 1997's AL East title season proved inadequate because of the pitching staff's injury-related

problems. The Orioles improved in slugging and on-base percentage yet scored only five more runs.

Miller's reference to "adjustments" centered on his club's struggles against left-handers and previously unseen arms as well as with situational hitting.

"If there was any problem between Ray and me, it certainly didn't come from here," Down said yesterday from his Las Vegas home. "I guess he had a problem with me."

"I just thought we needed to make a change," said Miller. "We had so many runners at second and third with nobody or one out and didn't do anything. It was frustrating."

The relationship between Miller and Down eroded throughout a disappointing season. Last October, Down pledged to Miller that he would remain in Baltimore despite a five-year offer to serve in the same capacity with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Down still has a year believed worth more than $150,000 left on a two-year contract and will not be offered another job within the organization.

Down, 47, served two seasons under Miller's predecessor, Davey Johnson, and received support from general manager Pat Gillick to succeed Johnson as manager. Majority owner Peter Angelos opted for Miller instead.

Miller is unsure of further changes within his staff. First base coach Carlos Bernhardt may return to the Dominican Republic, where he would serve as coordinator for the club's Caribbean scouting and player development. Pitching coach Mike Flanagan may seek a return to the HTS broadcast booth.

The Orioles, meanwhile, have completed the first phase of their search for a successor to Gillick. Angelos and chief operating officer Joe Foss will next determine how many of the five candidates will receive a second interview. Regardless, Foss says the quality of those under consideration has been "overwhelming."

Describing the next step as "a wonderful challenge," Foss said, "I've been extremely impressed by these superior candidates who know the industry and the Orioles' organization from top to bottom. It's been extraordinarily impressive how well-schooled the candidates have been."

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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