Maybe Miller only one who wants job

October 06, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

If Peter Angelos wants to play games, he can play games.

He can delay. He can obstruct. He can let Ray Miller twist.

He can pursue whatever agenda he desires, so long as he is prepared to accept the consequences.

He's going to blow it again. He's going to subject the Orioles to more ridicule. He's going to be rejected by Phil Garner and every other self-respecting managerial candidate if he ever decides to replace Miller.

After two years of losing, embarrassing baseball, Angelos couldn't decide within 72 hours of the end of the season whether to pick up Miller's option for 2000. Nor did he bother to inform general manager Frank Wren that he was delaying his decision.

To repeat:

Until further notice, Miller remains manager for life.

Who else would even want the job?

Buddy Bell appears set for Colorado. Don Baylor seems headed for Milwaukee or Anaheim. The Orioles evidently aren't interested in either, but Garner is prominent on their list.

And Detroit's and Anaheim's and the Chicago Cubs'.

If the Orioles lose Garner -- and if "significant" managerial experience would indeed be a prerequisite for Miller's replacement -- fired Cubs manager Jim Riggleman could be the next in line.

Riggleman, a 1974 graduate of Frostburg State, would be a competent, if uninspired, choice -- his .448 career winning percentage is even lower than Garner's .477.

But does Angelos even grasp that even Riggleman would be a major improvement over Miller? Or is he simply trying to humiliate Wren, who wanted to fire Miller in April, only to be overruled?

Whatever, the entire episode is ridiculous, another sad moment for this once-proud organization.

Angelos should be directing all of his energies toward hiring Garner.

Eddie Murray and Sam Perlozzo might prove fine managers, but the Orioles can't afford to put another inexperienced driver behind the wheel of a high-maintenance, low-performance vehicle.

Jim Leyland holds perverse appeal -- the way the Orioles run through managers, no one would blink if he bailed on them the way he bailed on Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado.

Tony La Russa? He's almost certain to return to St. Louis.

Lou Piniella? He plans to remain in Seattle, but a new GM could replace him.

Terry Collins? He's the least appealing retread of all.

Riggleman might not be a dynamic presence, but he's a class act with a strong sense of how the game should be played. He was a loyal soldier during San Diego's fire sale, and handled his firing in Chicago with terrific dignity.

The Orioles could do worse.

But just as there probably isn't a GM in the game who would choose Miller over Riggleman, there probably isn't one who would choose Riggleman over Garner -- not that Wren is even making this call.

Garner, 50, said yesterday that he has not been contacted by the Orioles. He also said that he is not ready to make a decision. For all he knows, his options still might increase.

The Houston job might open if Larry Dierker declines to return for health reasons, and that might be the perfect fit for Garner, a former Astro who lives in a Houston suburb.

And who's to say that Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove would be safe if the Indians were upset by the Boston Red Sox in the Division Series?

Garner is coming off seven straight losing seasons in Milwaukee, but he's in position to set his own criteria, and he knows it.

When asked yesterday what qualities he is seeking in his next employer, Garner offered a lengthy wish list.

"There's going to need to be a relationship where the owner and general manager can feel comfortable with me," he said. "I've got to feel I'm their guy. I want to feel they're confident in that. And I want to feel the same way about them.

"I'm looking at tradition, seeing what an organization has done in the past. And the wherewithal to put it all together, which means you've got to have some money, and the ability to do it. If you've done it before, there's proof you've done it in the past.

"I'm looking for an organization that has some minor-league talent and some talent in the major leagues. A good game plan is going to be important.

"I have all these things that are important to me. Taken one at a time, there can be give-and-take. Nobody is going to have everything. I would probably have to give a little somewhere along the line."

And strange as it might sound, Detroit would appear to be the Orioles' main competition.

Garner said this week that he wants to manage a team with a payroll between $50 million and $55 million and the flexibility to increase by $6 million to $8 million.

The Orioles obviously meet that criteria, and so might the Tigers after they open Comerica Park next season. The Cubs, however, say they want to reduce their payroll from $60 million. And the Angels are in such disarray, they must now replace the GM who interviewed Garner, Bill Bavasi.

Five years ago, it would have been a slam dunk for a Garner to choose Baltimore over Detroit. But the next manager would be the Orioles' fifth in seven seasons under Angelos. And the Tigers can now match the Orioles' greatest strength -- a revenue-producing ballpark.

The Miller affair is merely the latest example that the owner, GM and manager rarely are on the same page under Angelos. It is also well-documented that the Orioles "game plan" changes by the minute, or haven't you heard of Albert Belle?

The Tigers, mind you, aren't exactly the '27 Yankees. They're coming off six straight losing seasons, and they're about to fire first-year manager Larry Parrish, whom they preferred to Davey Johnson.

If Garner chose such a franchise over the Orioles, it would tell you all you needed to know about the perception of Angelos within the sport's inner circles.

Maybe that's why the Orioles are taking so long to decide Miller's fate.

They don't want to find out.

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