`Excited' Dempsey rejoins Orioles

Cheerleader as player, he'll now wave on runners coaching first

He says team is `very raw'

Orioles

November 16, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Broadcaster, former minor-league manager and still gung-ho, towel-waving optimist, 1983 World Series Most Valuable Player Rick Dempsey returned to the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday as first base coach, replacing former teammate Eddie Murray at the position only one day after Murray formally accepted an offer to become Cleveland Indians hitting coach.

"It's going to be an exciting time for me," said Dempsey, who signed a one-year contract.

Dempsey, catcher for the Orioles' 1979 and 1983 World Series teams, also will be responsible for instructing catchers.

Dempsey served as analyst on Comcast SportsNet's Orioles telecasts last season while also performing limited duties for the club's public relations department. However, he made little secret of his desire to return to the dugout, making himself available both to manager Mike Hargrove and majority owner Peter Angelos.

Shortly after Murray accepted the Indians' offer, vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift phoned Dempsey about the vacancy.

"The addition of Rick Dempsey to the staff gives us a knowledgeable and enthusiastic presence and someone who is familiar with the club through his broadcasting work last year," Thrift said.

Making little attempt to sugar-coat his assessment of what he saw, Dempsey said, "We are very raw. We are a very young ballclub. We have a lot of question marks. There are a lot of things this club still needs to do. Last year they were forced to bring up a lot of young players who were just not ready to be here. The quality of play needs to improve. I think everybody knows that."

Dempsey, 52, served as the Los Angeles Dodgers' third base and bullpen coach in 1999 and 2000. He managed five years in the minor leagues for the Dodgers and New York Mets. Dempsey interviewed for the Orioles' managerial vacancy in 1999.

Admitting he still hopes to land a major-league managing job, Dempsey said such thoughts "are on the back burner now" and did not play into his decision to join Hargrove's staff.

"I'm here now to do a job - to interact with players and help take some of the load off the manager," Dempsey said. "I will support him in every single possible way I can. That's my job. I loved managing in the minor leagues. It was fabulous. It was a lot of fun. But it's not my time yet. I've got a lot to learn. If my time ever comes, I'll be better prepared coaching for a guy like Mike Hargrove."

Dempsey's accomplishments as a player were highlighted by his performance in the Orioles' 1983 World Series win over the Philadelphia Phillies, when he hit .385 with four doubles and a home run.

A colorful 24-year major-league career spent with six teams included a .233 lifetime average, 96 home runs and 471 RBIs. In his 11 seasons with the Orioles, Dempsey established himself not only as a hard-nosed player but as an unabashed cheerleader whose towel-waving from the bullpen or dugout often incited Memorial Stadium crowds.

"I've always felt I've been an underdog in this game. ... This is going to be an underdog team until they prove themselves. I enjoy that. I enjoy the fire it brings out in me. I want to bring that out in these players," Dempsey said.

Espousing a commitment to enforcing fundamentals and a strong work ethic, Dempsey also made clear his desire to help restore the franchise's image after four consecutive losing seasons.

"Just about the best thing a player could ever want is here in Baltimore," he said. "For a club to lose that interest, somehow, is an awful thing. I want to be part of rebuilding ... that energy we had. That's what made me what I was."

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