Bypassed by O's, Perlozzo agrees to be bench coach under Mazzilli

He's `smarting a little bit' over managerial decision

November 09, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As Sam Perlozzo scanned his cell phone messages yesterday, he redialed a number that he mistakenly assumed would connect to the last caller. Instead, he ended up in a conversation with the man who beat him out for the Orioles' managerial job.

Lee Mazzilli hadn't left a message, figuring he would try again later. But they needed to talk, so Mazzilli could be certain that Perlozzo wanted to return as bench coach. So he could be sure there were no hard feelings.

"I'm coming back," Perlozzo said.

Chalk one up to caller ID.

Though the Orioles indicated all six coaches were invited back before naming Mazzilli as manager Friday, doubts remained whether Perlozzo would accept the offer because he was so disappointed at being passed over as Mike Hargrove's replacement.

"It wasn't a difficult decision," Perlozzo said. "I was really hoping I'd get that [manager's] job. I really wanted it, especially at this time, but there was nothing in my mind that said, `Well, if I don't get this, I'm going to leave.'

"I've been down before and no one's going to keep me down. I didn't get where I am today by not getting up, dusting myself off and going back at it harder."

Perlozzo said he intended to stay with the Orioles for a ninth season no matter who managed them, but he also assumed that he'd be at the controls on Opening Day.

"I really hadn't given a whole lot of thought to it because I truly believed I was going to get the job," he said. "If you dwell on negative things, then negative things take over. I was staying positive.

"I put a lot of hard work in this organization. To walk away from it without seeing it through isn't something that I'm accustomed to."

Before Mazzilli tried on his new Orioles jersey and cap at Friday's news conference, rumors already began circulating that Perlozzo would replace him as the New York Yankees' third base coach. But Perlozzo said the team never contacted him.

"There's only a couple jobs out there," he said. "It's pretty easy to speculate."

Orioles executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan called Perlozzo's Cumberland home around 10 a.m. Friday, informing him that Mazzilli was hired. They said it was a tough decision, and Perlozzo stopped them before the explanation went much further. "What about me?" he asked. Told that he was still the bench coach, Perlozzo said, "Fine."

"And that," he said yesterday, "was the end of the conversation."

One more exchange needed to take place - between Perlozzo and Mazzilli.

They've been friends since Perlozzo managed Mazzilli for a week at Triple-A Tidewater in 1986. They were reunited the next year with the New York Mets.

"We've been fairly close ever since," Perlozzo said. "We hug and talk every time before the games start. It's an Italian thing."

It was an awkward thing yesterday. They talked for about 10 minutes, and Perlozzo made it clear that any bitterness over the front office's decision wouldn't carry over to next year.

"He knew I was upset. He understood it and expected it. He said, `I was thinking about calling you yesterday,' and I said, `It's a good thing you didn't.' He totally understood," Perlozzo said.

"He knew I was still smarting a little bit, but he knows me as a person and as a baseball man, and he's counting on me. I told him, `Don't worry about me. I'll be there.'"

That's good news to a team that didn't want the coaching staff to change.

"Sammy's a great guy," outfielder Larry Bigbie said. "We've built a relationship with him. He's a great guy to have on the bench behind you. If it couldn't happen as a manager, I'd love to have him back on the bench."

Mazzilli is more of a mystery to the Orioles. They know him as a Yankees' coach, someone they see on television during the postseason. And they hope all that winning rubs off on them.

"He's got the playoffs in his blood," Melvin Mora said.

"Obviously he comes from a winning program," Bigbie said. "Hopefully he can bring some of his attitude from there to us. It'll be exciting to play with a guy like that and see how he's going to approach our team at the stage we're at right now and try to get us where we need to be."

Said reliever Buddy Groom: "He knows what it takes to win. He's been in a winning organization for a long time and he knows what to do to get to that next level. And hopefully we'll get the players in there who can help us get to that level.

"Everything's going to be a little different having him there, as it should be. Hopefully it will be a good, winning attitude from everybody. I know it's going to make a difference having somebody who has experience in a winning organization."

Hargrove fit that description, having led the Cleveland Indians to five straight Central Division titles and two World Series appearances. He's been fired twice, the same amount of times that Perlozzo narrowly missed a chance to become a major league manager.

"You can say I took a step backward. To me, I think I'm that much closer to getting one," said Perlozzo, who lost out to Bob Melvin with the Seattle Mariners last year. "It's not like it was a do-or-die thing for me. But this particular situation at this particular time, it was so close to home that it meant a lot more to me.

"All things were in place. Or maybe I just put them in place."

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