New York Yankees first base coach Lee Mazzilli has emerged as the leading candidate to land the Orioles' managerial job, several sources close to the search said yesterday.
The team's six-man search committee, which included Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, has reached a consensus favoring Mazzilli, but the process has yet to enter the critical final phase, which will involve owner Peter Angelos.
Besides Mazzilli, the three candidates still in the mix are Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo, Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Rich Dauer and Cleveland Indians hitting coach Eddie Murray.
According to team sources, that foursome separated itself during the first round of interviews, leaving the four other candidates out of the running: former Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little, Oakland Athletics bench coach Terry Francona, Orioles first base coach Rick Dempsey and Tampa Bay Devil Rays third base coach Tom Foley.
As of last night, Beattie and Flanagan were still plotting the week's course.
Both hope to name a new manager this week, but they did not rule out interviewing a ninth candidate, and they did not say whether they plan to do a second round of interviews.
"We met over the weekend," Beattie said. "There's still a few other things we have to do. We're finishing off some information [on the candidates], and we'll see where we are [today]."
Angelos spoke to Beattie and Flanagan by phone this weekend, but those three will likely meet today to break down the candidates' strengths and weaknesses.
Then they'll decide how to finish the process.
Beattie and Flanagan plan to make a strong case for Mazzilli, team sources said.
Mazzilli, 48, has been the Yankees' first base coach for the past four seasons. Before that, he posted a 220-197 record in three years managing in New York's minor league system.
He spent two years managing Single-A Tampa, guiding that team to the Florida State League finals in 1998. A year later, he guided Double-A Norwich to the Eastern League finals.
Mazzilli also hit .259 over a 14-year big league career that included parts of 10 seasons with the New York Mets. He hit a home run and forced home the game-winning run with a walk in the 1979 All-Star Game.
In 1989, Mazzilli was waived by the Mets and landed with the Toronto Blue Jays. He played only 28 more games before retiring, but one of his last teammates was Flanagan.
"I was walking on eggshells, and when I came into Toronto, Mike made me feel welcome," Mazzilli said Thursday, after his interview at the B&O warehouse.
"That made the transition a lot easier for me."
The six people who sat in on most of the interviews for the Orioles were Beattie, Flanagan, director of baseball administration Ed Kenney, assistant to the vice president Dave Ritterpusch, scouting director Tony DeMacio and farm director Doc Rodgers.
Sources inside and outside that search committee said they thought Dauer and Mazzilli had the most impressive interviews.
But Mazzilli, a New York City native with a thick New York accent, seems to have separated himself with his confident presence.
The Orioles are also keenly aware of Mazzilli's standing with Yankees manager Joe Torre.
After New York lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner put the team through its usual purge. Hitting coach Rick Down was fired, and bench coach Don Zimmer resigned. At one point, Mazzilli's job seemed to be in jeopardy, but Torre stepped in, and now Mazzilli, if not hired by the Orioles, will probably be the Yankees' third base coach, as Willie Randolph, a Steinbrenner favorite, moves to the bench.
Mazzilli also impressed the Orioles with how well he knew their team and how confident he sounded in what he could do if he got the job.
"I was very impressed with their approach here," Mazzilli told the local media after his interview. "They definitely have a plan. I know coming into Baltimore as a Yankee this season, we all knew they have a good core of players here. They're a team that can contend - not just compete - with the things they want to do via trade or free agency."
Beattie and Flanagan have already invited back the entire coaching staff, and on Thursday, Mazzilli said that was fine with him.
"You've got pretty good baseball people on this staff," he said. "That is not an issue with me, at all."
If all of this makes it sound like a slam-dunk for Mazzilli, it isn't. The Orioles still have fond feelings for Perlozzo, who was the runner-up for the job in 1999, when they hired Mike Hargrove.
Murray, 47, interviewed well for the position, and his Hall of Fame presence would carry huge weight inside and outside the clubhouse. But team sources played down his chances yesterday, acknowledging that his acrimonious past with the media still hurts his chances.
Those sources also said Dauer, 51, probably helped his chances through the interview process more than any of the other candidates. But his lone managing experience came with the independent league San Bernardino Spirit in 1987.
Perlozzo, 52, has spent the past eight seasons as an Orioles coach, including the past three as Hargrove's bench coach. He went 364-263 in five seasons managing in the Mets' system from 1982 through 1986.
In 1986, Perlozzo was the manager at Tidewater when Mazzilli was there for six games. Mazzilli also played under Perlozzo from 1987 to 1989 with the Mets, when Perlozzo was the third base coach.
They have remained friends over the years, and now they're going head-to-head, each looking for that coveted first managing job.