Hendricks out

Mazzone in?

Perlozzo reassigns O's longtime coach

Braves coach sought

October 18, 2005|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

The decision not to invite Elrod Hendricks back to his coaching staff was so gut-wrenching for Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo because Hendricks isn't just a longtime colleague, he is one of Perlozzo's closest friends.

However, on a day when the Orioles announced that their veteran bullpen coach will be reassigned, they took a necessary first step toward possibly reuniting Perlozzo with another one of his closest buddies. Executive vice president Mike Flanagan confirmed last night that the Orioles yesterday asked the Atlanta Braves for permission to speak to Leo Mazzone, regarded as one the league's premier pitching coaches and one of Perlozzo's childhood friends.

The Orioles have not heard back from the Braves, but Atlanta reportedly has already granted permission to the New York Yankees to speak to Mazzone, who is still under contract with the Braves.

If a bidding war for Mazzone ensues, one advantage the Orioles should have is Mazzone's fondness for Perlozzo. The two grew up together in Western Maryland and have remained best friends. Mazzone, who has been in the Atlanta organization since 1979, even has said publicly that one thing he'd like to do before he retires is be Perlozzo's pitching coach.

Mazzone is a sensitive topic to Orioles officials because their current pitching coach, Ray Miller, is under contract until the end of the month. Miller has received near unanimous praise for his work with the Orioles' young staff, but he remains hospitalized after surgery to remove an aortic aneurysm.

The Hendricks decision wasn't easy, either. He has spent 37 years in the Orioles' organization as either a player or a coach. It was one of several changes that have marked the early days of the Flanagan and Perlozzo regime.

Flanagan also confirmed yesterday that the Orioles will not retain director of baseball administration Ed Kenney. And Jim Beattie, whom Flanagan was promoted to replace last week, has agreed to remain as a consultant.

And Perlozzo is still awaiting word from third base coach Rick Dempsey on whether he will accept his offer to replace Hendricks as bullpen coach. Flanagan and Perlozzo, citing concerns about the rigors of a 162-game season on the 64-year-old Hendricks' health, informed him of the decision over the weekend, thus ending his 28-year coaching tenure.

"Without a doubt, it was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make," said Perlozzo, who is still assembling the rest of his staff. "I'd wake up two or three days in a row at four or five in the morning. I consider Elrod one of my best friends. Elrod is someone we love dearly and we want to make sure he is going to be OK."

Hendricks had a minor stroke during the final game of a three-game series against Tampa Bay in mid-April. He missed 18 games while recovering. Just last week, Hendricks said he got a clean bill of health from his doctor and he was hoping to return to his coaching duties.

"I understand that changes should be made when a new manager comes in, and this is a decision that our new manager made," Hendricks said. "I am disappointed because our ballclub is going to make a turnaround, and I want to be part of it, but that's not in the cards."

Hendricks said that he harbors no ill will toward Perlozzo or Flanagan, two people he has long supported. One of the most beloved Orioles because of his work on and off the field in promoting the team, Hendricks vowed to "put the same energies" into his new job, which is still being discussed.

Dempsey, who moved from first to third base coach during the season, is unsure if he will accept Perlozzo's job offer. It would essentially be a demotion for Dempsey, who has interviewed for three Orioles managerial openings, the latest when Lee Mazzilli was hired in 2003.

"It's a tough pill to swallow," Dempsey said. "I am not downplaying the importance of this job, but if I accept it, I'm pretty much taking myself out of the running for a manager job, especially anywhere else in baseball. How many bullpen guys are getting the opportunity to interview for manager?"

Still awaiting Dempsey's decision, Perlozzo said he is close to finalizing his coaching staff, though he declined to discuss specifics. However, it remains likely that Trebelhorn, hitting coach Terry Crowley and first base coach Dave Cash will return to the organization next season in some capacity.

Flanagan would not comment on the reasons Kenney was not retained.

It was well known that Kenney was skeptical about the emphasis that the Orioles have put in psychological testing and many will view his departure as losing a tug-of-war with Dave Ritterpusch, the team's director of baseball information systems.

Kenney declined to comment when asked if that factor led to his departure.

"I am going to see what's out there and move forward," he said. "I've enjoyed my years in Baltimore. I've been in baseball 27 years, and I am looking forward to a new challenge."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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