Perlozzo manages fine in ticklish spot as sub for Hargrove

ORIOLES PLUS

Wanting to run own team, interim boss impresses, but was it an audition?

Orioles

April 27, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

With Mike Hargrove in the final year of his contract, things could have been awkward for Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo last week, when he filled in as manager while Hargrove was in Texas with his mother in the hospital.

Was this an audition? Yes and no.

Few around the Orioles viewed this as Perlozzo's chance to position himself as Hargrove's heir apparent. But almost everyone involved saw it as a chance for Perlozzo to show he should be managing somewhere.

"It's a break for him," said longtime Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks.

"He was close to getting the Seattle job [this past offseason]. And, in reality, if you look at his resume as a coach, as a manager in the minor leagues, he has a good resume, a lot better than some of these guys that have gotten jobs in the last two years."

Perlozzo stopped the in-house intrigue right in its tracks. He kept calling it "Grover's team." He refused to sit behind Hargrove's desk, even though that would have been the most logical place for him to conduct his post-game interviews.

Instead, Perlozzo sat in a tiny corner of Hargrove's office, forcing media members to jostle for position between two giant pieces of leather furniture.

At one point, a reporter sprawled out on the sofa in an effort to get his tape recorder close, and Perlozzo said, "Next time, I'll bring a pillow."

The point is, it was uncomfortable for everybody, even with the Orioles winning four of the final five games on the homestand.

"I'm tickled to death the guys are playing so hard in Grover's absence," Perlozzo said. "It's one less thing he has to worry about, and I wish he'd hurry up and get back here."

With a severe infection threatening her vital organs, Rita Ann Hargrove needed two surgeries last week, and the Orioles were more than willing to let her son go and be by her side.

The 162-game schedule can place a tremendous strain on family lives, but Major League Baseball has entered an enlightened age. In 1975, when Hargrove's father-in-law died, Texas Rangers manager Billy Martin wouldn't let him miss the game on the day of the funeral.

Now baseball has a special bereavement list, which lets teams add a player to their roster so they're not short-handed when someone has a death in the family. The San Francisco Giants used it last week when Jason Schmidt's mother died, and the Anaheim Angels did the same for Francisco Rodriguez, when his grandfather died.

With Rita Ann's condition fluctuating, Hargrove didn't know exactly when he'd be back. He returned to the team last night.

"I told Mike to stay there," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said. "This is not the place for him to be right now."

Besides, the team was in good hands. Hargrove has called this the best coaching staff he's ever had. Tom Trebelhorn managed for six years in the big leagues, Mark Wiley was a minor league manager for three years and Rick Dempsey has interviewed for big league managing jobs in the past.

Hendricks is practically an institution, and Terry Crowley has been a major league hitting coach for 17 years.

Then there's Perlozzo, a 5-foot-9 scrapper who grew up in Cumberland, graduated from George Washington University, and used every ounce of skill he had to play 12 games in the big leagues - 10 for Minnesota in 1977 and two for San Diego in 1979.

After retiring as a player in 1981, Perlozzo remained with the New York Mets as a minor league manager. In five years, he won three championships and never had a losing season.

As a major league coach, Perlozzo spent three years working under Davey Johnson, six under Lou Piniella, and now four under Hargrove. Entering this season, those three had combined to win 3,392 major league games.

Perlozzo interviewed for the Orioles' job before they hired Hargrove in November 1999. When Piniella left Seattle, the Mariners interviewed 12 candidates to fill that job, and Perlozzo was one of four finalists, but they wound up hiring Bob Melvin.

"In a lot of ways, Sammy's like Grover was when he got the job in Cleveland [in 1991]," Hendricks said. "Grover's resume was pretty good, and when he came over he had a pretty good resume, and this guy's in the same class.

"That's why he should have been managing somewhere already."

If nothing else, this past week helped put Perlozzo back on the map as the next big managerial candidate. No matter how good his resume looks, the knock against inexperienced guys is that they haven't done it.

A similar situation developed with the Minnesota Twins three years ago, as their manager, Tom Kelly, took an eight-game absence when his father had open-heart surgery. Third base coach Ron Gardenhire filled in admirably for Kelly, and two years later, when Kelly retired, the Twins gave the job to Gardenhire.

Perlozzo got a chance for one game last year, when Hargrove attended the funeral for longtime Cleveland Indians trainer Jim Warfield. This time, he got close to a full week, and Perlozzo knew he was better for the experience.

"Managing is like anything else you do," Perlozzo said. "The first day on the job, you're a little nervous. It's something you're not used to doing, but the more you do it, the more you get used to it, and the more you relax."

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