O's fireman watches as season burns

May 18, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

We know he's Manager for Life. An Oak Tree. The Chosen One.

But this is ridiculous already.

Ray Miller should have been fired four times by now, but suddenly he might be winning a power struggle with general manager Frank Wren, who had the audacity to suggest replacing him as manager.

If the Peter Principle is when people are promoted to their level of incompetence, what is it when someone ascends two levels beyond?

The Oriole Way.

Miller is a terrible manager, but rather than dismiss him, owner Peter Angelos apparently is allowing him to play GM, endorsing his suggestions for the pitching staff without input from Wren.

In six years as owner, Angelos has ignored the advice of some of the game's brightest minds -- Larry Lucchino, Doug Melvin, Pat Gillick, Kevin Malone, Davey Johnson.

Miller is pulling back-to-back flops with two of the highest payrolls in major-league history, and now he's emerging as the owner's most trusted confidant?

Actually, Wren should feel honored -- he'll eventually leave and make the post- season with some other team, like all those before him.

Pitching, it's all pitching, Miller keeps insisting. Well, it wasn't all pitching last season. It's not all pitching this season. But that's the easiest excuse for a manager who is, ahem, a former pitching coach.

Never mind that the Orioles might have finished their road trip 5-5 instead of 3-7 if Miller had not burned Arthur Rhodes when trailing by four runs in Cleveland and bunted Brady Anderson when trailing by two in Texas.

Miller can manage himself into a box. He can blame GMs past and present. He can rip his players beyond the point of decency. And none of it matters.

Former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson would have envied Miller's influence with ownership -- and Jackson won six NBA titles, as opposed to being 36 games under .500 for his career.

The Great Escape is unfair to the players whom Angelos is paying $84 million, but Miller misuses time and again.

Unfair to Wren, who got hired only seven months ago, and suddenly is responsible for everything from the cancellation of "Homicide" to the shortage of crabs in the Chesapeake.

And, most of all, unfair to the fans who are desperate for a sign of hope, any hope, in what appears to be a lost season.

Farm director Tom Trebelhorn should have been named interim manager three weeks ago, after Miller ripped the players following an ugly 11-10 loss to Oakland.

Trebelhorn, a former manager with Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs, would restore a measure of competence to the position, make the season interesting again.

It's far from interesting now, and many fans are at their breaking point. Some are angry; others, apathetic. Surely, Angelos couldn't help but notice the empty seats on the last homestand.

Oh, the usual 3 million-plus tickets are sold, and the crowds will continue to be respectable, because there are few things on this earth more pleasant than spending a night at Camden Yards.

But what exactly is the point of all this?

The only justification for keeping Miller is that the season is lost, and that a change would resolve nothing. That might very well be true. But Angelos has never given up on a season before. And if he's indeed conceding defeat, then the logical next step is to start trading veterans for prospects.


Releasing pitchers such as Scott Kamieniecki or Mike Fetters would accomplish little. The Orioles should consider trading anyone and everyone. At least then they could replenish their farm system, which already is due for a boost, with the team holding seven of the top 50 selections in next month's amateur draft.

Whatever, our advice is no different than it was a year ago:

Blow it up.

And if anyone in management survives, it should be the general manager, not the manager.

Wren is actually the one person in the organization who is experienced with what needs to be done. He was the assistant GM in Florida when the Marlins traded every star they had, plus Mike Piazza, whom they acquired for about 15 minutes.

The Marlins dismantled a World Series champion, a stunning breach of faith with their fan base. They're 65-134 the past two seasons. But if nothing else, they were left with perhaps the deepest farm system in the majors.

The Orioles' Triple-A crop supposedly is their best in years, but Calvin Pickering might be the only impact player, and he projects as a DH. The need to rebuild is more urgent than ever. And the way to rebuild is through the draft and trades.

Miller wouldn't be the right manager even under those circumstances -- he wants to promote Single-A left-hander Matt Riley, an idea that is as dangerous as it is desperate. Trebelhorn, who has worked the past four years in the Orioles' minor-league system, makes much more sense.

But why even discuss it?

The inner workings of the warehouse stopped making sense long ago.

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