With silence, Angelos loud, clear on Mazzilli

ON BASEBALL

August 03, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY

LISTEN closely and maybe you'll hear it.

It's coming from the B&O warehouse. Perhaps it's a hissing, like air leaking from a tire. Or a deflating pop, like that from a pinpricked balloon.

Whatever the pitch, it's the sound of Lee Mazzilli's managerial tenure in Baltimore ending.

The constant murmur surrounding the Rafael Palmeiro steroids fiasco may mask it right now, but it is there - getting louder than it has been all season.

When the Orioles started off hot, when they held off the charging Boston Red Sox and taunted the suddenly vulnerable New York Yankees, everybody seemed to be talking about the job Mazzilli had done.

Everyone, that is, but the man whose opinion counts the most.

Owner Peter Angelos wasn't trumpeting Mazzilli's perceived mastery. He wasn't picking up Mazzilli's 2006 option or talking about a contract extension.

He was doing what successful lawyers do: observing, waiting and reserving judgment.

At the height of Mazzilli's success in June, Angelos wasn't saying anything.

Roughly six weeks later, with the team in a 9-27 tailspin and heading into a brutal final stretch, the owner has remained quiet.

Contacted at his law office yesterday, Angelos declined comment on the state of the team and Mazzilli's future.

He said nothing.

Which said everything.

He's not offering a vote of confidence or an "It's not over yet." He's just watching, like the rest of us, while a once-promising season becomes more painful each day.

One club source said Angelos' patience with Mazzilli has run out, that during this recent skid of 13 losses in 14 games, the owner has considered punting his manager and inserting bench coach Sam Perlozzo into the role.

Surely, if Angelos wants Mazzilli gone, it would make sense to see what Perlozzo could do in the last 50 games of the season. That would allow the owner to decide whether to hand Perlozzo the job in 2006 or conduct another search.

But that may not happen now.

Because Angelos has a tradition. One he is proud of.

He doesn't fire anyone.

He didn't fire Syd Thrift or Ray Miller or Mike Hargrove. Their contracts expired and he moved on. (For the record, regardless of who was in the right, Davey Johnson resigned.)

And so Angelos is stuck.

He never intended to fire Mazzilli. If the team stunk for an eighth straight year, Angelos could have let Mazzilli go quietly in October. Same as before.

But then a funny thing happened in April and May. The Orioles surprised everyone. They made people think they could be contenders. Suddenly, there were lofty expectations. Almost as suddenly, the bottom fell out. In seasons like this - that begin gloriously in the spring and wilt in the summer - someone has to be blamed for the implosion. And maybe soon.

Mazzilli didn't make Sammy Sosa leave his power in Chicago. Mazzilli didn't make Steve Kline leave his effectiveness in St. Louis. He certainly had nothing to do with the Great Aruban Collapse of 2005.

And he didn't injure Erik Bedard or Javy Lopez at key moments.

But he kept Sosa in the middle of the order when he couldn't hit the ball out of the infield. And he kept Sidney Ponson in the rotation for disaster after disaster. And his handling of the bullpen, from Kline to Steve Reed to B.J. Ryan to Jorge Julio to rookie Chris Ray, made some relievers grumble and privately question his authority.

If the team were winning, all of it could be excused. But it stopped winning. And a season that started with few expectations has turned into a colossal disappointment.

So there will be a scapegoat. Maybe a herd of them - since executive vice president Jim Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan also have expiring contracts.

Maybe the fall guy just goes away in the fall. Or maybe Perlozzo, who likely was Angelos' top choice in 2003 when the two-headed GMs endorsed Mazzilli, takes over soon.

The club source said Angelos hasn't fully made up his mind, that if the Orioles somehow rise above this recent mess and stampede toward the postseason, Mazzilli could be back. There is a slight crack in the window.

But, the source said, that's unlikely.

Instead, keep listening for the end of Mazzilli's reign.

Right now, it sounds like deafening silence coming from the team's owner.

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