As Sam Perlozzo made his entrance on the seventh floor of the B&O warehouse yesterday, surrounded by an entourage of Orioles employees and his wife, Beth, he stopped at a row of chairs reserved for the media and pointed to an empty seat.
"Is this where I'm supposed to sit?" he asked, smiling like a man who's used to being a supporting player rather than the main character. But not on this day. Not with a room full of people waiting for him.
Regaining his stride, Perlozzo headed toward the podium and accepted the applause that greeted the Orioles' newest manager, his hiring made official after working the last two months of the season with an interim tag.
"We're ready to move forward; we're ready to go," said Perlozzo, 54, who was given a three-year contract.
"I've been looking forward to this for a long time. The organization is primed to start in a direction where we can put wins on the board, put pride back in this organization. We're going to go at it as hard as we can and as long as we can until we get a winner on this field.
"I look for that to happen sooner rather than later. I promise you that I'll work extremely hard to get that done."
The Orioles went 23-32 after Perlozzo took over for Lee Mazzilli on Aug. 4. He's the 16th manager in club history after spending 19 seasons as a major league coach, the past 9 1/2 in Baltimore.
"We liked the way he guided the Orioles the second half of the year under some very difficult circumstances," said executive vice president Mike Flanagan.
Perlozzo was born and raised in Cumberland, making him the third Maryland native to manage the Orioles, along with Ray Miller and Cal Ripken Sr. He recently moved to Tampa, Fla., but also has a residence in Columbia.
"It's certainly a situation I've wanted," he said. "I'm so proud. Coming to Camden Yards each day is a real treat. If you had to pick someplace and I had a dream, this would be the dream, without a doubt. It's a dream come true. I just can't wait to get going."
The Orioles never interviewed other candidates for the job, a clear sign to Perlozzo that he was their choice as he waited for an official announcement.
"For the most part, I was very comfortable," he said. "The fact that they weren't looking, I didn't see anything [bad] going down. And I thought I did well enough, and we did well enough in some very difficult times, that I was the man for the job."
In addition to the Mazzilli firing, Perlozzo had to deal with a club shaken by Rafael Palmeiro's steroid suspension and subsequent allegation against teammate Miguel Tejada, Sidney Ponson's latest DUI charge and his contract being voided and the extended absence of Sammy Sosa.
Said Flanagan: "We made a determination late in the season to continue discussions and evaluate what managers would potentially be out there. There's an old expression - `rough seas make a great sea cap' - and I think we got to see the best of Sam in a very difficult time. I was very impressed the way he handled the club - on the field, and being in the clubhouse and seeing how he interacted with the players. He was extremely fair with the players. If there was something negative he had to deal with, he dealt with it. He didn't let it fester, he didn't let it build.
"We got a chance to see Sam in a relatively short period of time, but we got to see a couple years' worth of work under duress."
Perlozzo, a minor league manager for five seasons in the New York Mets' system and winner of three league championships, maintained the support of his players as the Orioles stumbled to fourth place in the American League East. Many of them openly campaigned for his return.
"My evaluation of what a good manager is and why players would respond to you is if you're fair, consistent and honest with them, and that's what I think I am," Perlozzo said. "I'm a good people person. I enjoy talking to the players. As long as you make yourself available to the guys and you don't hide in a corner, and you put them in the right places, they respect you.
"I think most of the guys have a pretty good feel for who I am."
They'll soon be reminded that Perlozzo won't tolerate any actions that show disrespect.
"There were picky things that bothered me - cell phones, being late, nagging things. If you start looking for things, you'll find them," he said.
"I have one major rule that is all-encompassing: Don't do anything to embarrass the ballclub or the organization."
As a third base and bench coach, Perlozzo worked for managers Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, Miller, Mike Hargrove and Mazzilli. He is widely regarded as one of baseball's best instructors.
"I've learned a lot of good stuff from a lot of good people," he said.
Nobody could have prepared him for the 2005 season, when controversies hit the club from all directions and made damage control a priority for the job. Perlozzo tried to keep the distractions to a minimum, exerting much of his energy on matters that stretched far beyond the field.