Mazzilli not only one to blame

ORIOLES FOCUS

Baseball

A Look Inside

July 18, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The midseason buzz was not entirely unexpected. The Orioles entered the All-Star break 11 games under .500 and sitting at the bottom of the American League East.

Everybody ought to be hacked off.

The fans have every right to burn up the talk-show lines with their dissatisfaction with Lee Mazzilli, Jim Beattie, Mike Flanagan and Peter Angelos.

The owner has every right to expect more from the front office, which has a right to expect more from the manager, who has a right to expect more from the coaches and players.

Whether the buck should stop in the manager's office is another story.

The Orioles' organization made a series of decisions during the winter and spring that now are being characterized as miscalculations, including - by some accounts - the choice of Mazzilli over heir apparent Sam Perlozzo, Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, coach Rick Dempsey, current Red Sox manager Terry Francona and former Orioles infielder Rich Dauer.

It didn't end there.

The front office said there would be enough pitching, and there wasn't.

The club felt Sidney Ponson could hold down the No. 1 starter role. He didn't.

Everyone thought that having two starting second basemen would be a good problem to have. You decide.

In short, there is plenty of blame to go around if that's how you want to play it ... but maybe you don't.

The manager eventually pays when things don't go as planned. That's the way it has been for the past century or so, and Mazzilli has been around the game long enough to know that if he doesn't get dumped this year, he will someday.

Beattie and Flanagan could toss Mazzilli aside and change the subject for a while, but they would still have the same team and the dismissal of the manager after just three months would be the ultimate indictment of the way they went about building that team last winter.

Sure, Mazzilli has done some quirky things, like playing second baseman Jerry Hairston in right field on a night when outfielder Tim Raines was in the lineup as the designated hitter. But the Orioles are not sitting at the bottom of the division because of a couple of strange lineup decisions. They are struggling because they are not a very good team right now.

Ponson, who supposedly was worth $22.5 million over three years last winter, is 3-12 and has been pushed back in the rotation. Mike DeJean, who was supposed to shore up the bullpen, is 0-5 and has contributed to several additional losses. If the two of them were a combined 10-10 (hardly unreasonable at a combined salary of $9 million) instead of 3-17, the Orioles would have arrived at this weekend 45-41 and just three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race.

Hard to pin that on the manager.

The debate over Mazzilli's future might be predictable, but it is unproductive. He is a first-time manager who is entitled to some on-the-job training.

If he has ruffled some feathers in the coaches' room because of his single-mindedness, he needs to sit down with the coaching staff and get on the same page.

Flanagan and Beattie also need to sit down with both Mazzilli and his apparently disgruntled coaches and convince them that their futures are inextricably intertwined.

Perhaps the Dartmouth-educated Beattie could illustrate the point with the famous quote uttered by Benjamin Franklin during the debate over the Declaration of Independence:

"We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

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