At last, it's his time, his team

Manager: Passed over before, Sam Perlozzo finally has the job he's always wanted with the Orioles.

Orioles Fire Mazzilli

August 05, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec and Mike Klingaman | Jeff Zrebiec and Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Manager Mike Hargrove was away from the game to be with his ailing mother, making the Orioles, for one April stretch during the 2003 season, Sam Perlozzo's team.

He had the final say on the lineup, decided when to remove a pitcher, and the responsibility of dealing with the media before and after games.

However, Perlozzo told anybody and everybody that this was "Grover's team." He declined to sit behind Hargrove's desk during interviews, re-routing the media to a small nook in the manager's office.

Perlozzo, a dedicated baseball man, who has spent many of his 54 years in a cap, jersey and spikes, was willing to wait his turn, confident that hard work and loyalty would eventually pay off.

Yesterday, the Cumberland native was named the interim manager of the team he grew up rooting for, replacing Lee Mazzilli, who was relieved of his duties after a little more than a season and a half with the Orioles.

"God blessed me that I can say, `I managed a major league team,' " said Perlozzo, who has spent five of his past 10 seasons with the Orioles as a bench coach, and was a finalist for the managerial job that ultimately went to Mazzilli in November 2003. "And I have a lot to prove. I'm not afraid of that challenge."

To those who have followed Perlozzo's career, which started as a player at Bishop Walsh in Cumberland, continued at George Washington University and resulted in a 12-game stint in the big leagues, Perlozzo has been hurtling over obstacles at warp speed from his beginnings in the sport.

"He played with his head and his heart as much as he played with anything," said Ted Femi, a former Orioles scout and baseball coach and teacher at Bishop Walsh. "Sam was an extreme overachiever who worked hard from daylight to dark. If the Orioles learn anything from him, it'll be the Cal Ripken concept that hard work pays off."

Perlozzo grew up in South Cumberland, then an Italian enclave, in the last part of town to get street lights. His father, Nick, was a clerk for the B&O Railroad. His mother, Rose, raised the three boys - Sam was the middle child - who all shared a common passion in athletics.

At Bishop Walsh, Perlozzo was a scrappy infielder on the baseball diamond, a ball-hawking guard on the basketball court and a speedy scatback on the football team.

"As kids, both Sam and I dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player," said Nick Perlozzo, 56, Sam's older brother, who recently retired from teaching after 32 years but is still an assistant high school baseball coach in Pennsylvania. "Being involved in athletics was very important to both of us. We just thought that was the path we wanted to choose, to be part of the game somehow."

In Cumberland, a town that once contained a sign welcoming passersby to the "Home of Sam Perlozzo," the Orioles' new manager may be best known for his performance in Bishop Walsh's near upset of a powerful DeMatha football team.

Bob Harden was on a grade school youth football team with Perlozzo.

"I was the punter and Sam was everything else," Harden said. "One day I caught a helmet in my thigh. Sam came in to replace me and punted it 71 yards. Well, I lost my job."

Still, Harden maintained that locals in Cumberland knew that Perlozzo would be a professional baseball player.

"He was all business," said Cindy Caporale of Hagerstown, who was in Perlozzo's 1969 graduating class at Bishop Walsh. "In high school, when everyone else was running around being ornery and doing things they shouldn't have, he was studying or practicing whatever sport was in season. He has always been the same ol' Sam, never snooty. His personality has never changed."

In one season at George Washington, Perlozzo, who grew up emulating slick infielders like Luis Aparicio and used to go to Memorial Stadium to try to get autographs from his favorite Orioles like Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair and Boog Powell, led the nation in stolen bases.

He was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins organization in 1972 and had a breakout season in 1977 for Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .310 and become a fan favorite because of his play on the field and his outgoing personality, which earned him the nickname, "the Italian Stallion."

But when his major league career began to taper off - Perlozzo played 10 games with the Twins in 1977 and two games with the Padries in 1979 - he turned to coaching, a natural fit, according to his brothers, who remember him not just playing baseball, but studying and analyzing it.

"Sam is a baseball guy," said his younger brother, Tom Perlozzo, 46, an Ocean City resident who is an independent marketing representative for Golf magazine. "I remember watching Earl Weaver and I'd say, `Sam, that's who you want to be. Go out there and kick dirt on the plate and get this place fired up.' My brother has always been a fiery guy, but he knows there is a time and place for that."

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