O's breakup should start with Miller

June 28, 1999|By John Eisenberg

A six-game homestand against the Red Sox and Yankees was supposed to tell us a lot about the Orioles.

Did it ever.

It told us that the Orioles are going nowhere this season, period.

It told us that, once and for all, the front office should draw up plans to break up the team and start playing for next season and beyond.

Oh, and it told us to reopen the issue of a possible change at manager.

Not that firing Ray Miller would save the season; the 32-42 Orioles have more flaws than any manager could overcome.

But let's turn the argument around: Is there a compelling reason to keep him on the job after a 1-5 week against the Red Sox and Yankees dropped his club out of wild-card contention and back to within a half-game of last place in the American League East?

No, there's no compelling reason to keep him.

And the evidence in support of making a change is almost overwhelming at this point, regardless if Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos wants to see it.

The club is now 23-46 against AL East opponents under Miller and a season-high 13 1/2 games out of first place after yesterday's 6-2 loss to the Yankees, which completed a three-game sweep for the World Series champs at Camden Yards.

That's a pathetic performance for a team with an $84 million payroll.

Isn't it time for someone other than Willis Otanez and Heathcliff Slocumb to pay?

Angelos worries about making moves that would diminish his fans' interest in the team and lead to more empty seats, but his fans are going to revolt if he doesn't order a change in the dugout soon.

It's not about saving the 1999 season, which everyone knows is lost now. It's about putting one of baseball's most popular franchises in more capable hands.

Miller is a fine pitching coach and a knowledgeable baseball man, but he's 35 games under .500 as a major-league manager, the opposite of a proven winner, and he's prone to making debatable moves with his pitchers and hitters. This isn't someone with a "lynch mob mentality" screaming for a head to roll, either. Some within the organization itself believe Miller's tactics may have cost the team as many as seven games this year.

As well, his habit of pointing fingers at his players has eroded any support he might have developed in the clubhouse.

After yesterday's loss, he said the 1-5 week possibly could have been avoided "if the bullpen had done reasonably well," a clear shot at the admittedly shaky bullpen. But the Orioles were ahead for only one-half inning over the course of the past five games, all losses. How could it be the bullpen's fault when the team was always behind?

Miller also continued to back his offense "as good enough to win," even though the bats totaled only nine earned runs in 39 innings against starting pitchers during the "must-win" homestand.

Bad timing? Come on. As stated before here, one of the Orioles' biggest problems is the lack of a key intangible quality, the winning knack. For whatever reason, they seldom win the games they really need, unlike the Yankees and Sox.

Miller blamed woeful starting pitching for the Orioles' horrid start, but the starters are 8-5 with a 3.50 ERA during the past 21 games, and the team is still just three games over .500 in that span. Obviously, there are other problems, too.

Basically, this is a team that needs a change, a wake-up call, a new blend.

Angelos cited continuity from the prior, winning regime as a reason for hiring Miller to replace Davey Johnson, but who needs continuity now?

Out with the old, in with anything else, please -- that should be the organization's new motto in the wake of a homestand that offered a chance to disprove the theory that the club didn't know how to win when it mattered, but ended up proving it beyond any doubt.

Now we know: No matter what kind of winning streak they build against other teams, the Orioles are just an expensive appetizer for the Red Sox and Yankees.

A disappointing finish waiting to happen.

It's all a clear signal to the front office to give up on 1999 and start looking to the future for the first time since Angelos bought the club in the early '90s.

If the team is going nowhere, why not trade some players with value for prospects who could help down the line?

And if such a sell-off does occur, a managerial change becomes almost a must. Miller is managing for the moment, as all managers do when they're worried about their jobs, but his team is out of contention. It's a bad philosophical fit.

The likely scenario would involve hiring an interim manager for the rest of this season and a more proven, permanent replacement next year.

At this point, with an up-and-down season having taken a major downturn, it's hard to imagine why the Orioles wouldn't want to get the process started.

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