Maybe Orioles aren't so crazy

Orioles

October 13, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Are they crazy?

It's a legitimate question to pose to the Orioles now that they have unveiled who's in charge. It doesn't apply to the men actually in charge, though. Not completely.

Yes, the Orioles are coming off an 88-loss, fourth-place season, sinking like a rock in the second half and covering themselves in slime on the way to the bottom. Yet they brought back the manager and the vice president.

That tells you that they think they're not that far away from contention.

The new/old manager, Sam Perlozzo, and the new/old vice president, Mike Flanagan, said as much yesterday as Perlozzo officially had the interim tag removed. That's the manager with the 23-32 record, and the vice president with the 223-263 mark and no finish above third while splitting the duties.

So, we repeat: Are they crazy?

Nope.

Neither Perlozzo nor Flanagan even sounded crazy while saying it. And maybe, in the second week of October, six months before Opening Day, they're not. Yes, it was crazy two weeks ago when Peter Angelos said it. But the wretched season was still in progress, and no one wanted to hear anything from the owner then except, "The team is for sale."

Now, there has been a little distance, a few key toxic players are all but a distant memory, and their AL East nemeses, the Yankees and Red Sox, have joined them on the sidelines, having aged before America's eyes during their playoff flameouts.

"The rest of the division has come back to the pack," Flanagan acknowledged. Of course, he added, teams with double or 2 1/2 times the budget can fix things quicker and afford bigger mistakes.

Still, envisioning the Orioles improving and the Yanks and Sox regressing - and pushing both visions to the limits of the imagination - isn't a bad way to spend the weeks before the real wheeling and dealing begins.

"We're ready to move forward," Perlozzo said yesterday at the news conference at the warehouse. Of the multitude of embarrassments that tainted the second half of the just-concluded season, he said, "That happened, we got through it, and it's over. Our energy needs to go forward."

That's one reason why the Orioles' talk of making a seemingly impossible leap doesn't sound crazy. Somebody else might disgrace the Orioles' good name, but they won't be Rafael Palmeiro, Sidney Ponson or Sammy Sosa (although that's not official yet).

None of the mess they made of last season can be carried into next season. Everything that Perlozzo (and to a lesser extent, Flanagan) said yesterday assures that. Perlozzo waited 19 years for this chance, and his debut in the final two months was the ultimate trial by fire.

Combine those motivating factors, and you get an Orioles manager who doesn't intend to stand for the stupidity, immaturity and unprofessionalism that was too often present in the clubhouse.

There are good pieces in place, Perlozzo said, and he's right. More need to be added, he continued, and no one would dare argue that. "We want to add good people to the ballclub, good baseball people," he said. Translation: people who aren't incorrigibly selfish, who pay attention to details, who respect themselves, their teammates, their coaches and the game.

Having players who fit that criteria is good; getting rid of those who don't fit it might be even more important.

The fact that Perlozzo and Flanagan are true Orioles, throwbacks, doesn't hurt. The fact that Angelos appears to believe in both of them, trust them and support them is even more important, because it indicates that the owner now has an idea of how to win - and that just wanting to win isn't enough.

The owner, VP and manager are suddenly showing signs that lessons were learned from the mistakes of even the most recent past. No more hoping the Yankees magic will rub off (that appears to be why they picked Lee Mazzilli over Perlozzo two seasons ago). No more letting the farm system go to ruin. Psychological testing? Well, the other way of doing things wasn't working, was it?

As for the dual-GM plan, it worked and it didn't. If it groomed Flanagan to do the job the right way, it's a raging success, and the poor performance of the past three years can be forgiven. But not yet, because having two bosses gave the impression that there really was none. Maybe Jim Beattie would have done fine on his own, but we'll never know.

But that doesn't matter now. There aren't two GMs anymore. No more Joe Torre apprentices, no more quick-fix sluggers or talent-rich young pitchers with too much leash.

There's just a manager who deserves the chance, a vice president who paid his dues, the heart of a roster that spent 62 days in first place and a couple of division front-runners in turmoil.

What's so crazy about that?

david.steele@baltsun.com

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