O's lost cause with, without Miller at helm

April 15, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- The question is not whether Ray Miller should be fired. Of course he should be fired. He never should have been hired in the first place.

The Orioles, however, would be fooling themselves if they thought they could save their season by replacing Miller.

This team is too far gone.

Miller is overmatched as a manager. He's an uneven strategist. He fails to get the most out of his players. He commands little respect in the clubhouse.

That much was known entering the season; some in baseball knew it the day Miller was hired. Still, not even Davey Johnson could win with this team.

How do the Orioles beat you?

Not with power -- Albert Belle and Harold Baines are their only home-run threats.

Not with speed -- Delino DeShields and Brady Anderson are their only above-average runners.

Not with a starting rotation that is winless beyond Mike Mussina. Not with a bullpen composed largely of retreads. Not with a defense full of aging, declining veterans.

How do the Orioles beat you?

They don't beat you.

Not if you're the second-year Tampa Bay Devil Rays. And certainly not if you're the defending world champion New York Yankees.

The firing of Miller appears inevitable. His replacement would be Peter Angelos' fifth manager in six years. But why would any self-respecting baseball man even want the job?

Don Baylor can't fix the Orioles.

Tom Trebelhorn can't fix the Orioles. Eddie Murray can't fix the Orioles.

Only Angelos can fix the Orioles.

He's the one who created this mess.

Miller isn't the problem; he's symptomatic of the problem. Under the Orioles' Peter Principle, employees rise one step beyond the position for which they are most qualified, then are beholden to Angelos.

No wonder they appear so weak.

Miller is an excellent pitching coach, but no manager. Frank Wren was a highly regarded assistant general manager, but it's too early to tell if he's a worthy successor to Pat Gillick as GM.

How do you even judge Wren? He was only following Angelos' mandate when he tried to spend his way into contention.

It's not working.

It had little chance of working.

And now, Angelos is in a bind.

He has never fired a manager in the middle of the season. One year ago, he compared Miller to an oak tree and proclaimed, "My manager searching is over." He probably is in no rush to admit his mistake.

After this weekend in Toronto, the Orioles play 18 straight games against low-budget teams, 12 of them at Camden Yards. Maybe they could get to .500 during that stretch. But even if they did, it would be an illusion.

Angelos' entire philosophy is based on keeping the ballpark full. He believes in rewarding fans for their loyalty. And he believes the way to do that is by acquiring big-name players.

He deserves credit for trying to please his customers. He understands the need for a high payroll. His philosophy is not greed-based. Nor is it totally ill-conceived.

It is simply the wrong philosophy for a major-league team.

Angelos fears that a team with younger, less accomplished players would translate into empty seats. But the collapse of Price Club II likely would produce the same effect, no matter how many tickets are sold.

The payroll was $74 million last season, and it's $84 million this season. What would Angelos do next season, spend $94 million? How about $104 million? If at first you don't succeed, buy, buy again.

George Steinbrenner learned his lesson.

Maybe Angelos will, too.

Steinbrenner still spends lavishly, but the Yankees' turnaround was fueled by players out of their farm system -- Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter.

Of course, the Yankees probably would have continued trading such prospects if their front office had not demonstrated the value of patience to Steinbrenner during his suspension from Major League Baseball.

But no, the answer is not for Angelos to be suspended.

Ted Turner turned the Atlanta Braves into the Team of the '90s after committing to his farm system. Cleveland, Houston, even Los Angeles -- every top club today features a mixture of modestly paid youngsters and millionaire veterans.

Make no mistake, the Orioles are wise to give Calvin Pickering, Jerry Hairston and Ryan Minor the Triple-A experience they require this season. Come to think of it, Sidney Ponson also might benefit from meaningful time at Rochester.

But what about next season? Will the Orioles be willing to trust Pickering and Co.? Will they allow Wren to draw on his player-development background? Or will they continue viewing young players as trade material and nothing more?

One of the great pleasures in baseball is watching home-grown players develop. The Orioles haven't produced an everyday impact player since Cal Ripken. There doesn't appear to be a Jeter among the prospects at Triple-A.

But it's time to find out.

Angelos is right to be suspicious of the nouveau crowd at Camden Yards -- many of those fans probably never stepped inside Memorial Stadium. But why pander to such front-runners? They will be the first to bail, anyway.

The true fans of this team -- those from Baltimore, Washington and points beyond -- are fed up with Rotisserie ball, fed up with all the turnover, on and off the field.

Bruce Kison is the Orioles' sixth pitching coach in six years, including two stints by Mike Flanagan. He might be a good pitching coach. But how is he supposed to correct Ponson, a pitcher he met only two months ago?

Firing Ray Miller makes sense. Firing Ray Miller solves nothing.

The Orioles are too far gone.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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