Too many visions are blind spot for Orioles

July 20, 2004|By John Eisenberg

THE ORIOLES might not be winning a lot of games, but they sure have a lot of vision.

They have Mike Hargrove's vision of a coaching staff.

Jim Beattie's and Mike Flanagan's vision of a manager.

Earl Weaver's vision of a pitching coach.

Peter Angelos' vision of an ace. (Make no mistake, he pushed for Sidney Ponson's signing after spending so much to bolster the batting order.)

Remember when then-vice president George H.W. Bush referred to "the vision thing" during the 1988 presidential campaign? The Orioles have an abundance. They have vision things.

They also have one of baseball's worst records and a mild case of organizational panic because the Devil Rays have passed them and, well, that's not a development you can spin.

Rumors about manager Lee Mazzilli's job security have jump-started the familiar conversation about what should be done, a dialogue that has become a midsummer staple around here.

It needs to start with the surplus of visions.

You can get away with having them if, say, you're cooking chili in a fraternity house kitchen. Everyone can throw something different into the pot and it will still taste great.

But the Orioles aren't cooking anything except their own, good name as the consecutive fourth-place finishes mount.

They can't expect to improve until they pare down their visions to prevent overlapping.

That's what the (shhh) Devil Rays did when they brought in a strong manager in Lou Piniella before the 2003 season. It's his team now. And a better team.

Whose team is the Orioles? You can't answer that question.

It used to be Angelos' team (figuratively speaking) back when he was running through managers and general managers in the '90s. But then he saw the light and backed off, giving Syd Thrift and now Beattie and Flanagan more latitude.

He has started jumping back in again lately because he signed some free agents and is obviously getting antsy about continuing to lose. But still, you can't say the 2004 team is his vision.

Nor is it a product of Mazzilli's vision. The rookie manager has such little organizational juice that he wasn't allowed to hire his own coaches, a right every manager deserves. Then, when a change was made at pitching coach, he wasn't even allowed to make that call.

It's way too soon to start making pronouncements about his abilities and potential. He has made some mistakes. There is talk of clubhouse dysfunction. An absence of spark. But when a rookie manager is dealt someone else's coaching staff and a Triple-A starting rotation, the losing is not primarily his fault.

Put it this way: Neither Joe Torre nor Tony La Russa would be faring much better, if at all, with this set of circumstances.

But back to the vision thing. Beattie and Flanagan had the most to do with putting together this year's team. They gambled on Mazzilli. They got some of the free agents they wanted. They opted for trying to make it with a rotation of young pitchers. They brought back Weaver-era pitching coach Ray Miller.

Some of their moves have worked. Some have not. Going with young starters didn't, but it was the right move philosophically, long overdue. A losing team is never going to get better trotting out Omar Daals every year.

With more young pitchers on their way, some quite impressive, it would be a shame to abort such a plan now.

But who makes such a call? Any call? Flanagan? Beattie? Both? The owner? His manager? There's no knowing and, at this point, no telling, which is precisely the point.

By definition, a two-headed general manager produces a blur of visions, even if both are thoughtful, intelligent baseball men. They don't agree on everything, you can be sure of that.

Yes, a baseball team is supposed to be a collaboration of opinions and ideas to some degree, with scouts, executives, coaches, managers and ownership all chiming in. The Yankees are the shared vision of Torre, George Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman, among many.

But the Orioles feel too collaborative, as opposed to being run with authority.

It's always better when someone is plainly in charge, wielding the hammer and taking the heat, applying his vision and being held accountable.

The only time the Orioles were any good in the past decade was when Pat Gillick came in as GM, picked a team and said, "OK, we're going with these guys because I think it will work."

He had the vision thing. The Orioles went to the playoffs. It wasn't a coincidence.

Orioles today

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Time: 2:10 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (7-3, 3.01) vs. Royals' Zack Greinke (2-6, 3.57)

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