First question: How long will this Orioles manager last?

November 04, 1999|By John Eisenberg

The Orioles of owner Peter Angelos have no problem hiring quality candidates for their important baseball jobs such as manager and general manager. Mike Hargrove's arrival is just the latest example of that.

But they do have a major problem keeping those qualified hires around, as the departures of Johnny Oates, Pat Gillick, Kevin Malone, Davey Johnson and Frank Wren -- among others -- vividly illustrate.

In other words, as lucky as the Orioles were to land a manager as qualified as Hargrove at a time when their credibility in the industry is at a low ebb, now comes the hard part.

Now comes the part where, in the past, qualified baseball men have been second-guessed, criticized, disdained and slowly swallowed whole by an organization lacking patience, continuity and a typical chain of command.

Is it going to happen again? Given what's gone on here, how can that not be the No. 1 question as Hargrove's Orioles career begins?

Sure, as the winner of five straight division titles in Cleveland, he brings instant credibility to a team coming off a losing season as expensive as it was embarrassing. He might have his faults as a manager, but overall, he has done his job competently and successfully for almost a decade in a must-win atmosphere.

But Gillick, Malone and Johnson represented instant credibility, too, and look how long they lasted.

Something always goes wrong, ruining the pictures that look so pretty and perfect on these days when a new face arrives and everyone sounds so optimistic.

"I'm so impressed with Mr. Angelos' commitment to bringing a winner to Baltimore," Hargrove said.

Sorry, but Gillick, Malone, Johnson, Wren, Phil Regan, Ray Miller and the rest of the ex-Oriole corps all said the same thing -- and look how long each of them lasted.

Make no mistake, that history is the reason the organization's latest managerial search came down to one candidate with a track record -- Hargrove -- and a handful of others with limited or no major league managing experience.

Not that the other finalist, third-base coach Sam Perlozzo, wasn't also a solid choice. Perlozzo is a respected candidate who deserves a shot -- and he might still get one here sooner than he thinks, given the average life span of Angelos' managers.

Still, most of the other legitimate, available choices wanted no part of the job, primarily because "How many men in this country would lose their jobs, know they'd be paid for a year and go out two days later to try to get another job? I said to Mike, `That's sick.' " Sharon Hargrove, wife of new Orioles manager Mike Hargrove.

Angelos has employed five managers in six years, and also because there's no GM in the wake of Wren's ouster and the organization's chain of command is unclear, to say the least.

Knowing that, and also knowing that Hargrove could have sat out the 2000 season, drawn $600,000 from the Indians and probably had his pick of attractive jobs next year, you have to wonder why he wanted to come.

Even Hargrove's wife, Sharon, had to laugh at her husband's interest.

"How many men in this country would lose their jobs, know they'd be paid for a year and go out two days later to try to get another job?" she said. "I said to Mike, `That's sick.' "

But hey, the money is good, real good -- that's always the case in Baltimore, right? And Hargrove also clearly didn't want to fall out of the major league loop, which can happen when you sit out a year.

"As I told Mr. Angelos in our interview, `I don't need this job, but I want this job,' " Hargrove said.

He worked for the Indians for 20 years before being fired last month, making him a true company man, a complete stranger to the kinds of fickle wind shifts that have become so commonplace around here.

"I'm not going to lie to you, I never thought I'd be wearing the black and orange of the Orioles," he said.

Maybe that's good. Maybe he's so blind to the warehouse politics and games-playing that he'll just float above it all and have a longer, happier tenure than any of his predecessors.

It could happen. It certainly needs to happen, for the sake of the franchise's overall health. Changing managers every other year obviously is no way to win.

"My contract is for longer than one year, so I assume there's a commitment [from management]," Hargrove said.

He's a pro, a guy who knows how to do the job for which he's been hired. But it's never as simple as that with the Orioles, is it?

"What kind of communications agreement do you have with Mr. Angelos?" Hargrove was asked yesterday.

"What kind of what do I have?" Hargrove asked, apparently unaware that manager-owner communications was a major issue when Johnson was chased off and replaced by Miller two years ago.

He responded that he had no plans to speak with Angelos on a regular basis, but that he was an honest guy and he'd had a great interview with Angelos, and he was anticipating no problems.

In other words, he thinks he can handle the demanding situation, just like they all did.

If it turns out that he can, unlike the others, bringing some stability to an organization that desperately needs some, the fans should throw him a parade.

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