Angelos is the reason Miller survived the season

October 03, 1999|By John Steadman

Maybe Ray Miller doesn't realize it, but he should. The best friend he has in baseball during a 35-year career, including pitching, coaching and managing, is the last man he worked for -- the majority owner of the Orioles who defended him with iron-willed resistance and refused to submit to what became a near-constant public refrain: "Fire Miller."

Now the Orioles, momentarily, are expected to make a change that is seemingly inevitable, although the club is still uncertain of what other moves are to follow. The harsh reality is Miller becomes an ex-Orioles manager.

Peter Angelos, who calls the signals, is erroneously depicted as a hatchet man, an uncompromising dictator by those who don't truly know him and offer superficial misjudgments. This is not only unfortunate, it's also erroneous. The Angelos flaw, if it can be called that, is he's too easy. Almost a pushover. He never gave Miller the hook, thus letting him complete his contract and preserve a degree of dignity.

In the future, Angelos, instead of having some of his baseball and law firm associates cull candidates and make recommendations for manager and general manager, should do it all himself. He didn't get where he is by listening to others. He demonstrated concern for a manager who was under stinging verbal assault from the public and media. To stand by Miller in his season of torment may have been a disservice for all concerned, but Angelos never came close to throwing him to the wolves.

Miller survived for only one reason: The owner wouldn't bend. In midseason, Angelos said, "Ray is being turned into a punching bag. All the blame is being affixed to him, and he doesn't deserve it."

Yet the Orioles, with one of the most expensive of all sports payrolls (exceeding $80 million this year), didn't produce. If the manager was a failure in 1998 and 1999, then the players, speaking collectively, represented a similar embarrassment. They can blame Miller for lack of leadership, but the team's sub-.500 play reflects their lack of professionalism.

Pressed as to why he didn't switch to another manager in midseason, Angelos said, "I don't discard people that easily. Ray came back as a pitching coach in 1997 and bailed us out, taking over after Pat Dobson. I don't believe he should be turned into a scapegoat."

A commendable explanation, a measurement of one man's loyalty to another in a tough business -- baseball -- but Miller can't escape without criticism. He had the baton, the leader of the band.

In the past there have been too many changes for the organization to establish stability. The turnover in general managers and managers in the six-year Angelos regime has become a too-frequent occurrence.

Stop to consider that Angelos owns a successful restaurant directed by one of his boyhood companions, Sam Bates, and his thoroughbred racing interests, campaigning under the name of Marathon Stable, are headed by trainer Dick Dutrow. They both recognize the qualities of allegiance he extends and the independence he affords them to make decisions.

The Orioles, in the last three weeks, have been showcasing some of their more able minor-league talent. The suspicion is it's an effort to influence the public and even Angelos into believing the farm system is about to furnish a flow of able young players. Maybe so, but from what's been seen, it appears to be more of a wish than a fact.

Among the Orioles' problems is an apparently factionalized attitude within the framework of the team. The condition prevailed even before the arrival of manager Davey Johnson, who preceded Miller in 1996. He apparently realized he couldn't put an end to some of the prevailing negative influences, so he worked around the situation with delicate handling. Miller inherited those same circumstances.

However, we've always been of the opinion that it's not necessary for personalities in sports to mesh. Internal conflicts, if they can be called that, aren't all that important to the end result, be it a win or loss.

Every situation is different. We've known managers with Mickey Mouse mentalities who have been winners and, conversely, honor graduates from colleges, with excellent reputations, who couldn't manage their way out of the second division.

The Orioles -- if they make changes, and it's certain to happen -- may alter job descriptions and revert to an earlier era, under owner Jerry Hoffberger, and not have a general manager per se. It was that way when Hoffberger named Frank Cashen executive vice president and Harry Dalton vice president/director of player personnel.

The designation of general manager, as in the former baseball times of Branch Rickey and George Weiss, has become obsolete.

Whether he abolishes it and the man who carries the title, Frank Wren, is a subject that remains to be dealt with.

Angelos is an iconoclast. That's demonstrated in his baseball ways, and how he has gone about doing more important things for Baltimore than few benefactors, with self-made or old inherited family riches, have ever done for their old hometown.

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