Garner is available, O's, so don't let him get away

August 17, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Well, there finally might be a silver lining to Ray Miller lasting this long as manager.

Phil Garner is available, and if the Orioles want him, they can have him.

Why even delay? Garner might be the best fit for this franchise. And the competition for managers only will intensify once the season ends, with perhaps a half-dozen clubs making changes.

At the moment, no other team seems inclined to dump its manager for Garner. But the Orioles could have justified firing Miller in April, and now they're a dreadful, irrelevant 51-66.

For once, let's see them show initiative.

For once, let's see them show vision.

Tony La Russa is likely to stay in St. Louis. Don Baylor is intriguing, but not totally proven. Eddie Murray, like all candidates lacking major-league experience, represents too great a risk.

Garner wouldn't come without questions. But he offers much to recommend.

His players respect him. His teams play hard. And his "Scrap Iron" persona would play well in a town that revered the feisty Earl Weaver.

The question -- and it's a big one -- is how he would fare working in Baltimore, where the demands on a manager are far different than in Milwaukee.

Garner has never managed with a high payroll. He has never managed under high expectations. And he has never managed for an owner like Peter Angelos.

His personality is not as rigid as La Russa's. But no one would call him a yes man, either.

Maybe Angelos would welcome such a strong presence after watching Miller flounder for two seasons. And maybe the owner finally is ready to grasp that a manager should be not just a warehouse ally, but the driving force behind a winning team.

By that measure, La Russa might be a more logical choice for the Orioles. His record is better than Garner's. He has managed under World Series pressure. And he could match intellects with Angelos, a fellow attorney.

Still, La Russa comes with his own baggage. He has reached the postseason only once since 1992. His blunt, joyless style is a turn-off to some players. And his powerful will could lead to conflicts with Angelos.

Why even discuss him?

The Orioles can't hire La Russa until the off-season, if then.

They could hire Garner today, if they wanted.

What's the worst thing that could happen? Their players might snap to attention? Their fans might get interested again?

Too often, the Orioles drag their feet on major decisions. Their seemingly exclusive window with Garner bears similarities to their exclusive negotiating rights with Rafael Palmeiro last season.

You recall what happened with Palmeiro -- the Orioles allowed him to become a free agent, then got blindsided by the Texas Rangers. The same could happen again if they failed to act on Garner.

Anaheim, Detroit and Seattle are among the clubs that might hire new managers this winter. So might Cleveland, Texas and the New York Mets, if they suffer postseason meltdowns.

Yes, Garner was working on his seventh straight losing season when the Brewers fired him last Thursday. But considering the payroll restrictions in Milwaukee, he never had a chance.

In 1992, his first season, he kept the Brewers in contention until the final weekend, led them to a 92-70 record and finished second to La Russa for American League Manager of the Year.

He never had it as good again.

The Brewers' mounting debt led to the departures of top players. Drafts and trades provided little help. Garner's 78-83 record in '97 was considered such an achievement, he finished third for Manager of the Year.

No question, his 563-617 career record is troubling. But it's not as if Garner is a stranger to winning baseball. As a player, he appeared in the postseason for the '75 A's, the '79 Pirates and the '86 Astros.

If he's not the right man for the job, who is?

Perhaps Baylor, the Atlanta hitting coach. He led Colorado to the postseason in '95 and posted the best five-year record for an expansion manager. He's a good man, a homegrown Oriole. And like Garner, he was a winning player.

As Jim Leyland could attest, it's extremely difficult -- and maybe impossible -- to win long-term in Colorado. But Baylor isn't as highly regarded as Garner in baseball circles. And again, he won't be available until the off-season.

As for first-time managers, forget it -- the Orioles' job is not for the inexperienced or insecure. Phil Regan was a disaster. Miller, more than a decade removed from his previous managing position, lacks stature and skill.

Garner learned to teach in Milwaukee, and that ability would serve him well as the Orioles turn to younger players. He would restore not only competence to the position, but also class and accountability. Few managers call their firings "justified." Garner did.

If the Orioles want him, they can have him.

And if they don't want him, let's see them find a better man.

Pub Date: 8/17/99

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