Miller, O's losers in blame game

April 26, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Well, that should do it. Ray "Manager for Life" Miller likely fractured his right hand in frustration yesterday, then launched into a profanity-laced diatribe against his players. At this point, firing him would be an act of mercy.

A week ago, owner Peter Angelos said Miller is "safe, period."

After yesterday's 11-10 loss to Oakland, make that period a comma.

Angelos doesn't want to fire his precious "oak tree" of a manager, but what is he going to do now that Miller is practically begging for it? And -- in the only remaining question of the 1999 season -- whom is he going to blame?

Changing managers won't make the Orioles a contender. Changing managers won't cure all that ails this sad, sorry organization. But it's almost impossible to imagine Miller walking out the lineup card to home plate tomorrow night at Camden Yards.

He questioned his team's courage. He questioned his team's character. He said some of his players weren't professional. He said: "If you've got any questions, if you want a story, go out in the clubhouse. They're the ones making all the money."

Is that a leader talking?

Is that a major-league manager?

"I've been open. I've been candid. I've been taking pretty good hits," Miller said, "and I stand behind myself and my coaching staff today. I think we had everybody in pretty good position today. The players just failed."

Oh, that should do it, all right. Miller gave Angelos the out he needs, turning on his players only days after patting himself on the back for not bailing on them. The players deserve every bit of it, mind you. But heaven forbid Miller share the blame for the Orioles' 4-14 start.

It's not unreasonable to suggest that a highly acclaimed former pitching coach should be held accountable for yesterday's 14-walk disaster. But, as we all know, "accountable" is the dirtiest word in the Orioles' language.

Miller lashed out at his players at the end of last season. He lashed out at former general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone this spring. And he lashed out again yesterday, rather than accept a measure of responsibility.

Surely, Angelos must recognize that it's time to cut his losses. The only question now is how the owner will spin this and who his true scapegoat will be if he is about to name his fifth manager in six seasons.

"Naturally, I am disappointed, but I'm not laying blame on anyone or anything right now," Angelos said in yesterday's Boston Globe. "I'm not raising hell. We're not this bad. I have to believe we'll get better."

Not after a game in which the Orioles blew a 10-6 lead after rallying from a 6-0 deficit. Not after a game in which they scored eight runs in an inning and lost. Not after a game in which they were embarrassed by the bargain-basement Oakland A's.

Little more than a year ago, Angelos exulted in his selection of Miller, referring to him as an "oak tree" and proclaiming, "My manager searching is over."

Everyone knows that Miller isn't completely at fault. And it's only natural that Angelos is trying to protect him to the end.

"Some people have suggested that I protect Ray Miller because I hired him," Angelos told the Globe. "I hired Phil Regan and Davey Johnson, too. Ray's trying. When his three best starting pitchers are struggling, Will Clark and Cal Ripken are hurt and he's had other injuries, one man isn't to blame."

Excuses, excuses -- the Orioles are always full of excuses. Never mind that aging teams are more susceptible to injuries. Never mind that other teams endure the losses of important players and manage to win a series now and then.

If Angelos is going to portray Miller as an innocent bystander -- and we can just hear the team's solemn spin about how the manager was an "unfortunate victim of circumstances" -- then how else is he going to explain this?

Well, there's always Frank Wren.

The new GM was asked to slap together a contender in three minutes, but didn't he fail to upgrade the rotation? Didn't he add Mike Fetters and Heathcliff Slocumb to the bullpen? Didn't he give Delino DeShields a three-year contract when St. Louis was unhappy with him at second base?

You can knock Wren for all that. You can knock him for signing Albert Belle for $13 million a season when that money might have been better allocated to other players. But let's face it, Wren never had a chance.

Think how different things might be if Angelos had promoted Malone to general manager. Malone might not prove a great GM in Los Angeles, but he was the best potential GM for this team.

Angelos ran off Johnson, one of the game's best managers. He ran off Gillick and Malone, two of the game's top executives. And he's about to run off Miller, who was one of the game's best pitching coaches before Angelos reinvented him as a manager.

The Orioles' goal is to win the World Series, but they can't even win a three-game series. They're so lost, they don't even know where to start looking. All they know is that their manager for life is about to walk the plank.

Pub Date: 4/26/99

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