Little will get meeting with O's after all

In managerial search, team reverses thinking on ex-Red Sox skipper

Yankees' Mazzilli interviews

Little's winning record at major league level intrigues team officials

Orioles

October 31, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles made a U-turn in their managerial search yesterday, deciding Grady Little was worth a closer look, after all.

Four days after getting fired by the Boston Red Sox, Little will become the eighth candidate to interview with the Orioles, who hope to name a new manager by late next week.

Internally, the Orioles were considering Little as a potential candidate throughout the World Series, when it seemed inevitable the Red Sox would fire him after their devastating defeat in the American League Championship Series.

When Boston fired Little on Monday, high-ranking Orioles officials played down the chances they would bring him in for an interview. If the goal is to find a more fiery manager than Mike Hargrove, Little probably doesn't fit the mold, team sources said.

But yesterday, the Orioles' tone changed.

After winning 93 games last year and 95 games this year with Boston, Little offers something the Orioles have yet to see from their other seven candidates: a winning resume as a major league manager.

Their first four candidates - Eddie Murray, Sam Perlozzo, Rich Dauer and Rick Dempsey - all have close ties to the organization, but none has major league managing experience.

This week, they team has interviewed Terry Francona, Tom Foley and Lee Mazzilli.

Francona is the only one in the group with any major league managing experience, and his record in four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies was 285-363.

"We're happy to have a chance to interview someone who's had the success as a manager that Grady Little has had," Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said.

Little, 53, actually managed in the Orioles' minor league system from 1980 to 1984 at Rookie-level Bluefield, Single-A Hagerstown and Double-A Charlotte.

He interviewed with the Orioles in 1999, before they hired Hargrove, and left a favorable impression with owner Peter Angelos and several members of the search committee, which included former vice president Syd Thrift, current third base coach Tom Trebelhorn and scouting director Tony DeMacio.

Little has been roundly criticized for his decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to protect an eighth-inning lead in Game 7 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees. The Yankees came back to tie the game in that inning and won on Aaron Boone's 11th-inning home run.

On Monday, the Red Sox insisted Little's firing wasn't based on that one decision, and they handed him a $250,000 severance bonus on his way out the door.

Little issued a statement that day saying, "Grady Little is going to be fine!" and he hasn't commented publicly since. He did not return a call to his cell phone yesterday.

No interest in Ramirez

At the very least, Little could offer the Orioles' insight into Boston's offseason goals. The Red Sox surprised the baseball industry by placing Manny Ramirez and the $100 million he has remaining on his contract on irrevocable waivers this week.

Major league sources said the Orioles aren't interested in Ramirez at $20 million per year, and even if the Red Sox are willing to eat part of that salary, Baltimore isn't a likely trade destination.

Mazzilli impresses

Orioles officials came away impressed with Mazzilli after his interview yesterday.

Mazzilli, the New York Yankees' first base coach, also had a good interview with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last year before they hired Lou Piniella.

"The two people you have running the [Orioles'] organization [Flanagan and Jim Beattie] are very aware of what is going on," Mazzilli said. "I would think that the people of Baltimore are going to be very pleased with the product they have out there on the field this year."

Mazzilli, 48, has been close with Flanagan since they were teammates together with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989. Mazzilli's stock has been on the rise since he went 220-197 in three seasons managing in the Yankees' farm system, from 1997 to 1999.

"I think when you come out of the game [as a player], you think, well, managing is the easy part, but I look back now and it was a really good, worthwhile three years for me," Mazzilli said. "It really helped me tremendously. Because once you sit behind the desk as a manger, it's a whole different game, and don't let anyone tell you different.

"It's not just the X's and O's. That's not the biggest thing with managing. The biggest thing is managing players' personalities, having guys ready to play and wanting to come to the ballpark each day, believing they can win."

Agent dealings

The Orioles have an interesting history dealing with agent Arn Tellem, who brought them Albert Belle in 1998 and helped usher away Mike Mussina to the New York Yankees in 2000.

A year ago, Tellem solicited an offer from the Orioles on Hideki Matsui before delivering him to the Yankees. This fall, Tellem is expected to represent the latest Japanese sensation, switch-hitting shortstop Kazuo Matsui, and he already has had informal discussions with the Orioles about signing him.

Tellem also called the Orioles to see if they were interested in Frank Thomas, before Thomas exercised his $6 million option to stay with the Chicago White Sox. The Orioles passed.

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