Invisible manager gone without much of a trace

Orioles Fire Mazzilli

August 05, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

I'M TRYING to come up with the right adjective to sum up Lee Mazzilli's tenure with the Orioles, and I keep coming back to this:

Weightless.

He was here for 269 games, a little over a season and a half, and his tenure was so light and wispy it barely left an imprint.

Mazzilli didn't take your breath away with inspired moments of managerial brilliance. He didn't volunteer interesting or cutting-edge baseball philosophies. The fans were bored with him, and it's fair to say not a single player would run through an outfield fence for him.

To his credit, he never whined, never lost his cool, kept the team's keel even in rough seas and doggedly supported his guys. He took the high road after getting fired yesterday with his classy admission that someone had to be held accountable.

But otherwise, his era was almost determinedly benign. He has barely departed, and it already seems fair to ask: Was he ever here?

He's destined to join Phil Regan, Billy Hitchcock and Jimmy Dykes as Orioles managers who came and went almost without leaving a trace. Actually, Ray Miller and Mike Hargrove - the two managers who preceded Mazzilli - also belong on that list, which, for those paying attention, means the list includes every manager hired by Peter Angelos except Davey Johnson.

The lesson in that is seven straight losing seasons, with No. 8 in the works, tends to make managers forgettable. Mazzilli is the latest example.

Of course, seven straight losing seasons, with No. 8 in the works, is above all a sign of a troubled franchise.

Mazzilli did little to help his cause. But he also didn't put together the pitching staff that collapsed on him, leading to his undoing more than any other factor.

At the end of 2004, the Orioles vowed to upgrade their pitching, knowing it wasn't good enough. But executive vice president Jim Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan did little to remedy the problem. They brought in relievers Steve Reed and Steve Kline, a pair of busts. They didn't add a single starter, which they desperately needed.

They balked again last week at the July trading deadline, adding an outfielder, not a pitcher.

Frankly, it's a disgrace that this team just goes on and on with the same pitchers who, while solid in some cases, obviously aren't good enough overall.

Between two ex-pitcher general managers and an unpredictable owner stepping in and out of the decision-making process, the front office is paralyzed on the pitching issue, incapable of doing anything.

Mazzilli couldn't help that.

And neither can Sam Perlozzo, who has replaced Mazzilli on an interim basis.

My hunch - one I have had for a while - is that Perlozzo might be a good major league manager, and at the very least, deserved a chance here. It's good to see that chance finally coming, even in these dreadful circumstances.

Hey, I wrote that he deserved a chance two managers ago, before Hargrove was hired in 1999.

Perlozzo had been a major league third base coach for a decade then, building a reputation as a bright, respected, baseball man. He didn't get the job, but he kept his mouth shut.

Then he kept it shut again when Mazzilli was hired ahead of him in 2003, even when it soon became clear the hiring was less than inspired. (The most remarkable aspect of Mazzilli's tenure was that he was hired because he supposedly blew away Beattie and Flanagan in an interview, yet offered little evidence of such spark once he was on the job.)

Perlozzo, 54, was a winning minor league manager in the 1980s, and he has worked under Lou Piniella in two places, Seattle and Cincinnati. The Piniella influence is interesting. Perlozzo is a positive guy who relates especially well to players, but here's guessing he can throw a fit and show some fire when it's warranted.

He should do that if he wants the job beyond this season - show some fire, take some chances, demonstrate that he's prepared.

Make a strong impression, unlike the guy fired yesterday.

It's true, of course, that removing Mazzilli from the scene doesn't solve the Orioles' many problems, which range from personnel shortcomings to management dysfunction. In that sense, the firing is beside the point.

At the same time, a team's goal should always be to have the best possible person at every job, and there is little doubt the Orioles can do better than Mazzilli.

They weren't wrong, in other words, to make the move they did yesterday. They just need to understand that many more moves must now follow.

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