Perlozzo managing opportunity of lifetime

Perlozzo manages a long-sought chance

August 10, 2005|By Dan Connolly

IT WAS a simple, sweet moment in a complicated, maddening season.

Most of the fans heading into Camden Yards didn't notice.

It happened at 7:01 last night, with Tampa Bay hitting coach Lee Elia and the game's four umpires standing at home plate.

Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo appeared from the home dugout to exchange the night's lineup card.

Perlozzo's lineup card.

"If before the game you go out to home plate and don't think that's cool, you shouldn't be out there," Perlozzo said with a huge grin.

Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal. Normally, third base coach and fan favorite Rick Dempsey would take out the lineup card and offer a quick overview of the field boundaries.

But Perlozzo wanted to do it this once. He wanted to shake the hand of Elia and recite the rote instructions as the manager of his home state's baseball team.

This was Baltimore's version of Susan Lucci holding up that elusive daytime Emmy. Of Phil Mickelson making that putt at Augusta. Of Roy Williams cutting down the championship net in April.

No matter what happens later, no matter if that interim term is dropped or if Perlozzo is fired, the Cumberland native can say he managed the Orioles.

That was true Thursday, when he officially took over from fired manager Lee Mazzilli. But that was in Anaheim, Calif., 3,000 miles from where he grew up.

Yesterday was different.

Perlozzo knew it when he saw his nameplate above the manager's door.

"When I walked in and saw my name up there, it's overwhelming to realize that you worked all your life and you worked hard and you finally got a chance," Perlozzo said. "It's something I don't take lightly one bit."

The guy is 54. Most managerial types are on the scrapheap by that age, not starting their first big league stint. But Perlozzo is patient.

He's been with this organization for 10 seasons, a big-league coach for 18.

He has twice been passed over for the Orioles' manager's job and was once a finalist in Seattle. Typical for a 5-foot-9 former infielder who spent nine seasons in the minors for a reward of 26 major league at-bats.

Perlozzo was asked yesterday if he had ever given up hope.

"Never," he responded without hesitation.

Baltimore is starving for a feel-good baseball story right now. So maybe too much can be made of Perlozzo getting this gig. After all, there's no promise that he isn't anything more than a convenient fill-in, despite his assertions otherwise.

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity [owner Peter Angelos] and his staff entrusted to me," Perlozzo said. "And I am going to see to it that it was the right decision.

"What makes this special is that Perlozzo came to this job the right way. He didn't get it when Mike Hargrove was hired, and he kept quiet. He just kept working, helping Hargrove until the end.

Perlozzo was then the odds-on favorite in 2003, when Mazzilli got the job.

Perlozzo had managed Mazzilli in the minors. Many men would have taken that moment - when a protege passes you on the career ladder - as a sign to move on or give up. But Perlozzo stayed. Assisted Mazzilli. And never stabbed him in the back.

"That's Sammy," longtime bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "He's gonna do a [heck of a] job. ... I'm glad he didn't get a job elsewhere."

This won't be easy, of course. He has to deal with a struggling team about to face its fallen teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, after his 10-day suspension for a failed drug test. Perlozzo will have to deal with the subsequent media zoo while trying to get the Orioles back in the race. He has to manage knowing he really only has 50 games to impress management. He's even doing this while selling one house and buying another. He joked that his wife, Beth, is "going to get a bonus" for handling those matters.

On the day off Monday, Perlozzo helped pack up his old house, keeping his mind off what he was about to encounter.

Then he came to work, to his office, and dropped into his chair - a chair he refused to use while filling in for Hargrove in 2003, after the manager's mother died.

"The first thing I had to do was raise the chair," he said jokingly.

It's that self-effacing humor that has gotten him through the waiting, hoping and praying.

Last night, the patience paid off in an Orioles win against the Devil Rays, putting an exclamation point on a much-needed sweet story here.

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