Mazzilli signs 2-year deal as new manager of Orioles

Team owner Angelos apparently was hesitant

November 08, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles hired former New York Yankees first base coach Lee Mazzilli as their manager yesterday, ending weeks of speculation that they would hand the job to a more familiar face, such as Eddie Murray or Sam Perlozzo.

Mazzilli signed a two-year contract that includes two club option years, and then strolled into his introductory news conference showing all the confidence and charisma that had wowed the Orioles' decision-makers in his interview Oct. 30.

"I am looking at this challenge with great enthusiasm," Mazzilli said. "This is a good, good ballclub. This is not a rebuilding ballclub. This is a team that can compete with any team in the league. I believe that."

The Orioles have suffered through six consecutive losing seasons, the last four under Mike Hargrove, who was fired Sept. 29.

Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan conducted a five-week search before naming Mazzilli the 15th manager in club history. They interviewed eight candidates, including former Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little and former Philadelphia Phillies manager Terry Francona.

Mazzilli, 48, seemed like a long shot at the start.

He was short on experience, compared with Little and Francona, though he had gone 220-197 as a manager in the Yankees' minor league system from 1997 to 1999.

And he was certainly short on Orioles ties compared with Murray, Perlozzo, Rick Dempsey and Rich Dauer. From the beginning, the two favorites seemed to be Murray, who went into the Hall of Fame as an Oriole this past summer, and Perlozzo, who has spent the past eight years as the team's bench coach.

"We don't look at it as being unconventional," Flanagan said. "In my estimation, [Mazzilli] had what we were looking for at this point in time, to grow with this club as it gets better.

"Attitude, personality, projection, leadership - to take nothing away from the other candidates, we just felt with the whole package, he was the right guy at the right place right now."

Mazzilli knows all about timing. As a player, he hit .259 in 14 major league seasons, including 10 with the New York Mets. He got waived by the Mets in 1989 and landed with the Toronto Blue Jays, and though he played 28 more games before retiring, one of his final teammates was Flanagan.

They stayed friends over the years, and less than a year after Flanagan landed his front-office job with the Orioles, he thought of Mazzilli as manager material.

Mazzilli was the seventh of eight candidates to interview for the job, and he dazzled the six-member search committee, which consisted of Beattie, Flanagan, director of baseball administration Ed Kenney, assistant to the vice president Dave Ritterpusch, scouting director Tony DeMacio and farm director Doc Rodgers.

This time, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos did not meet with the candidates, but Beattie and Flanagan kept him up to speed throughout the process.

Angelos also studied the videotapes from the news conference each candidate conducted after his interview - something the Orioles set up as part of the process.

Last weekend, Beattie and Flanagan told Angelos the candidate that had impressed them the most was Mazzilli.

"When we got through [with Mazzilli's interview]," Flanagan said, "We both went, `The search is over.' "

Said Beattie: "Lee is a winner. It came through in his interview. He talked about how on a daily basis, it starts and ends with winning. He's not just going to go out and compete."

But Angelos apparently was hesitant. He had strong feelings for Perlozzo, who was considered the runner-up when Hargrove got the job in 1999 and remains popular throughout the organization.

Angelos has long admired Murray and threw him a lavish party in Cooperstown, N.Y., during the Hall of Fame induction weekend. And Angelos, like several members of the search committee, had also been impressed with Dauer, the former Orioles second baseman who now works as the Milwaukee Brewers' bench coach.

Beattie and Flanagan presented their case for Mazzilli on Tuesday, but Angelos didn't sign off on the decision until late Thursday night.

"They worked very diligently, and I know it was very difficult for them because of the positive qualities of all those who interviewed," Angelos said.

"They had close personal relationships with some of the candidates, and some of them were teammates, so I know it was difficult. But they made the right decision for this team. Obviously, I support it completely."

Salary figures for Mazzilli were not immediately available.

This week, the Yankees announced Mazzilli would be promoted from first-base coach to third-base coach if he didn't land the Orioles job. Now there is speculation in New York that the Yankees might try to hire Perlozzo to coach third base.

Perlozzo declined to comment yesterday.

The Yankees wished Mazzilli well.

"He certainly has gained valuable experience over the years," Yankees manager Joe Torre said in a statement. "And I have a great deal of confidence that he'll do a fine job with the Orioles."

In his four years with the Yankees, Mazzilli went to the playoffs all four years, advancing to the World Series three times. Asked if he thought Orioles fans would have a hard time embracing a Yankee, Mazzilli didn't blink.

"Well, guess what?" he said. "I'm not a Yankee any more. I'm an Oriole."

Sitting behind the podium, Beattie began clapping. He was soon joined by a throng of team employees who had turned out to welcome their new manager.

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