With Angelos steaming, Mazzilli, O's in hot water

July 02, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

IN A SEASON earmarked to turn around the disgraced Orioles and reinvigorate their long-suffering fan base, the stakes were far higher for Peter Angelos than where the team finished in the American League East standings.

Maybe that's why Angelos chose to put rookie manager Lee Mazzilli on the hot seat, which is essentially what Angelos intended when he said:

"We made a commitment to bringing these fans a winner, and the responsibility for making it come true rests with the professionals in charge."

The jury is still out on Mazzilli, whose flurry of suspect, game-losing decisions at this point can't be judged apart from some other seriously suspect aspects of the team.

If you pick a surprise managerial candidate with no major league experience and put him in charge of a young pitching staff that was at best a gamble, there's a good chance the experiment could backfire.

Is it Mazzilli?

Didn't he lose heartbreaking games to the Angels, Giants and Braves by letting Chone Figgins, Barry Bonds and J.D. Drew hit, or swing, against the wrong pitcher?

Is it the decision by Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan to start four novices in the rotation?

Are the test results that are supposed to tell the Orioles who their next Jim Palmer is getting too much credence over other aspects of scouting?

Is a bullpen that suffered through Mike DeJean's woeful outings and the faulty management of Rodrigo Lopez capable of sustained success?

Is it Javy Lopez playing too many games behind the plate when he was supposed to DH but can't because Jerry Hairston or Brian Roberts wasn't traded and now both have to hit?

Would Sidney Ponson mean something different to this team if his record were turned around?

Did the disastrous pitching by the Four Inningless Starters finally cast a negative spell over the team?

Have Luis Matos, Larry Bigbie and Jay Gibbons hit their ceilings?

There are a ton of issues on this ballclub that must be examined, but the so-called plan would at least require everyone who signed off on it to keep a lid on -- at least until the season was done.

Unless, of course, you're the owner of a Baltimore baseball team that was supposed to be better than before, but instead is numbingly and -- here's the real important part -- dangerously worse.

Dangerous if you think that a team in D.C. will siphon fans and funds from the team in Baltimore, which has not been to the World Series since 1983 and isn't getting there anytime soon.

Forgive the conspiracy theorists who abound and flourish in Baltimore baseball circles, but with Major League Baseball turning backflips to avoid angering Angelos by relocating the Montreal Expos to D.C., this is the wrong time for the Orioles to stink.

It's one thing for people to be apathetic about the plight and fate of the Orioles. It's quite another when they veer toward suspicious, angry and/or vindictive.

There is the theory that says a team in D.C. might force the Orioles to up the ante on their franchise management strategies. That, of course, is directly contrary to Angelos' assertion that a baseball team in D.C. would make for two weakened products. One suspects the longer the Orioles sputter, the more people might figure it's time to let the chips fall where they may.

This is the opinion of Baltimore's mayor, Martin O'Malley, who doesn't oppose D.C. getting a team.

For making these remarks, O'Malley was the recipient of priceless political analysis on the part of Angelos, who called O'Malley an immature, goofus politician -- or something similarly as scathing.

What great times we're having this baseball season, no?

Any way you look at it, the Orioles needed to be better this year.

To further dissuade baseball from placing another team within or near Baltimore's territory, it could only help if the franchise was categorically demonstrating it could make good on the so-called public trust of fielding a winning team.

Just as important, the franchise could only help itself in the D.C. relocation issue if it started demonstrating that its recent history of management dysfunction was a thing of the past.

It would seem easier to look baseball officials in the eye and tell Bud Selig not to mess up a good thing in Baltimore when, in fact, it was a good thing.

Instead, the Orioles are about as far from being a good thing as anyone could have imagined.

The so-called plan turns out to have put the team in a worst-case scenario, including several indications that Angelos is no less involved in the running of the club than he was rumored to be in the past.

Consider the way Angelos is reassuring Orioles fans that the second half will be better, now that fall-guy Mark Wiley was reassigned and Ray Miller was installed to work with the pitching staff.

Consider that Mazzilli didn't get to choose his pitching coach, and that he appears isolated from the dedicated, veteran group of coaches he inherited.

Consider that the Orioles were about to draft a high school shortstop recommended by Tony Demacio, but were told to pick a college pitcher.

Consider that the Orioles have now traded a can't-miss pitching prospect (Denny Bautista) -- for whom they traded Jeff Conine a year ago -- for veteran reliever Jason Grimsley because their immediate situation was such an emergency that the organization was willing to compromise the so-called plan.

"I don't want to talk about [.500]. This is not a .500 team. It's not an under-.500 team, or a team that's going to win one game over 50 percent," Angelos said.

The heat is on -- from all directions.

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