O's open up behind closed doors

Private meeting lets players respond to Miller's criticism

April 28, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

As talk about his possible successor gains momentum within the organization, Orioles manager Ray Miller headed a "very responsive" clubhouse meeting yesterday in an attempt to defuse negative sentiment stemming from his emotional, public critique of the team on Sunday.

The 34-minute meeting followed two days of round-robin conversations among majority owner Peter Angelos, general manager Frank Wren and Miller, including an hour-long, face-to-face talk yesterday between Angelos and Miller. While Angelos and Wren offered their support for Miller's message, organizational concerns linger over the manager's method.

One club official called Miller's Sunday outburst "a death wish," and several players voiced criticism.

"We're a team. If you're the captain of the ship, you can't jump off with the only life preserver," second baseman Delino DeShields said before the meeting. "Ray's frustrated like everybody else in here. I understand where he's coming from. And he's right in a lot of ways. He's not the one throwing pitches and swinging at balls. But at the same time, it starts at the top. That's what I've always been told and always believed. It's like in a house. It starts with Mom and Dad."

The meeting, which one player described as "a fight," seemed to energize a team that had lost eight of its previous nine games. The Orioles' 8-4 win over the Kansas City Royals included sharp defense, aggressive base running and timely hitting, none of which had been obvious in recent days.

"If you feel better about playing, you're going to play better," winning pitcher Mike Mussina said. "I think some guys had stuff to let out. You get it out, you feel better and you play better. I think that's what you saw."

Organizational intrigue still clouds Miller's future.

Wren met at length with Angelos yesterday but last night declined to comment on Miller's status. Wren did admit concern over Sunday's sharp rebuke, which included questions about players' professionalism and salaries.

"If you've got any questions, if you want a story, go out in the clubhouse. They're the ones making all the money. Have them explain to you how they did and how they performed in front of 47,000 people," Miller said after the 11-10 loss to the Oakland Athletics.

Miller received about 400 supportive telegrams and phone messages between Sunday, and last night's game but did not impress all within the organization.

"I think it was unfortunate that happened," Wren said after meeting with Miller over issues "unrelated" to Sunday. "Some of the things Ray said, I thought he was right on. But I'm not sure about the forum. Everybody has a breaking point. I guess Ray reached his Sunday."

Angelos yesterday spoke with Miller for the first time in several weeks. Despite persistent lobbying from within the organization, Angelos remains reluctant to fire his manager, according to club sources. Should he eventually issue Miller's ouster, sources say an interim will be named -- either director of player development Tom Trebelhorn or a member of the current coaching staff.

A common belief within the organization is that Angelos is especially reluctant to make a move before next Monday's exhibition against a Cuban All-Star team. Angelos was unavailable to comment.

Miller insisted he was unapologetic during yesterday's clubhouse meeting -- the second this season -- but did invite commentary, even criticism, from players. He apparently received both after emphasizing "accountability" in his initial address.

"I certainly didn't apologize for anything I said," said Miller, adding, "There's a certain amount of frustration. Accountability is a factor in this game, whether it's me or the player or anybody."

Center fielder Brady Anderson, catcher Lenny Webster and closer Mike Timlin were among the most vocal participants in the meeting. Their words were primarily directed at teammates, but at least one player stood during the meeting to ask that Miller "let the players play the game."

DeShields said Miller's public criticism was "not appropriate." Several other players concurred, adding that ripping the team in public violated a clubhouse trust. To cite salaries -- the Orioles carry an $84 million payroll -- only worsened the wound. "It doesn't matter whether you're making $500,000 or $20 million," insisted one player. "That's not going to determine the effort you give. To imply that is ridiculous."

Miller denied suggestions he was fed up with the situation and wanted out. "If I'd had it, I wouldn't be here," the manager said. "Certainly, I'm financially set. If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't be here."

Pressed on whether he was concerned about his job security, Miller said: "I never worry about my status."

The meeting with Angelos was Miller's first since shortly after the Orioles returned from last month's exhibition in Cuba. Miller described yesterday's conversation as supportive but he also acknowledged his precarious position.

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