Garner ready to go, but O's step carefully

Inside the Orioles

Miller asks to be fired

Angelos looks to '00

August 22, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

First came disappointment, then eventually relief. Phil Garner has experienced both since the Milwaukee Brewers fired him 10 days ago after more than 7 1/2 seasons on their bench. The third stage -- anticipation of his next job -- hasn't arrived, though Garner knows it soon will.

"I'm in a shutdown mode," Garner said Friday from his Kingwood, Texas, home. "I'm going to manage again. And if the situation is right, I'll manage again next year."

Many within the industry -- and, more tellingly, the B&O warehouse -- believe Garner could succeed Ray Miller as the Orioles' next manager sometime next month. The delicate process apparently has begun, though it must wait until after season's end to take shape with formal interviews, adherence to the commissioner's office demand for minority participation and a survey of candidates.

The talent pool will increase after the season when Larry Parrish, Terry Collins, Jim Riggleman and Lou Piniella may become available. Tony La Russa could still walk away from the St. Louis Cardinals. Atlanta Braves hitting coach Don Baylor is expected to get another job a year after his dismissal from the Colorado Rockies. Chris Chambliss, Davey Lopes and perhaps Buck Rodgers will be interviewed by those seeking replacements. Paul Molitor is a possibility to replace Brewers interim manager Jim Lefebvre.

Barring La Russa's availability, Garner's name remains the most intriguing. The Orioles would have coveted him following the '97 season, when they hired Miller to replace Davey Johnson.

Miller has become a convenient lightning rod for the organization's ills. Miller didn't construct the bullpen, react impulsively to the New York Yankees' interest in right fielder Albert Belle or lobby against a more dramatic movement toward youth this season.

His tactical decisions and inconsistent handling of the bullpen have received deserved scrutiny; however, majority owner Peter Angelos' refusal to appoint an interim to finish the season has only punished Miller. On several occasions Miller has asked Angelos to fire him if he thinks it in the best interest of the organization. Angelos has refused despite the counsel of his front office.

Recently, however, Angelos has told his inner circle he will not assume Miller's option within the prescribed 72 hours following the season.

Discussions regarding a successor have begun, according to a club source, with Garner's name at or near the top of both Angelos' and general manager Frank Wren's list.

"I would not want to comment on any of that," Wren said last night, "just as I would not comment on any other employees publicly unless something actually has happened. I don't think it is fair to put anyone in that kind of situation."

Garner, 50, is careful not to campaign or list criteria for his next job. But he makes it clear he wants to manage again soon.

"I'm by no means burned out," he said. "I'm not bitter toward the game I'm not one of those guys who needs to sit out a year and reflect."

He has been found within a major-league dugout every season since 1973 as a player, coach or manager. "I need the stress. I need excitement. If it's not baseball it's going to be something else. That stress makes me get up in the morning to go beat somebody," said Garner, whose stress level currently includes putting three children through Texas A&M.

Garner's first Brewers team went a surprising 92-70 in 1992 and finished four games behind the eventual world champion Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. That Brew Crew was a fundamentally sound veteran team that included current and future Hall of Fame players Robin Yount and Molitor, and a starting catcher named B. J. Surhoff.

But as the disparity between the industry's rich and poor grew, the Brewers became one of the casualties. Garner's last seven teams failed to reach .500. Still, his contract was extended twice. In 1997, despite his team's 78-83 record, Garner finished third in the balloting for AL Manager of the Year to runner-up Buddy Bell and winner (ouch) Davey Johnson.

"There's no doubt it's a frustrating situation," said Garner, whose final team had a $42 million payroll, approximately half the Orioles'. "We knew what we needed to do to upgrade but we had to settle for doing it a different way."

Before his Aug. 12 firing, Garner had confided to general manager Sal Bando that he had no intention of returning next season.

"There wasn't anything else I could do," he said.

During his drive nine days ago from Wisconsin to Texas, he found time to put eight years in perspective.

"The first emotion you feel is sadness, because you didn't accomplish what you wanted to accomplish," Garner said. "I didn't get it done for the players, ownership or myself. I have a lot of pride. I wanted to put my name on the club. I want to see the organization do well.

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