O's making smart moves, if not out-and-out coups

O's moves add up to downright coups

October 20, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Until now, the Orioles seemed to be picking their way through the staff directory, leaving some names alone, scratching others out. Some remains from the old regime, or from several regimes back, are staying. Others are being let go.

There didn't seem to be rhyme or reason to it all. Some moves looked like change just for the sake of change. Signals were being sent that nothing was going to be different, others that everything was going to be different.

Out was Jim Beattie, along with Elrod Hendricks (what did he do wrong?). Staying were Sam Perlozzo and Mike Flanagan (no offense, but what did he do right?). Not even getting calls were Brian Cashman and Lou Piniella.

Right or wrong, it all only spread the doubts that the Orioles had the stomach to make a big, noisy, major-impact move, in a division in which they have to pass two franchises whose policy is to make big moves.

Right or wrong? Today, that theory looks wrong. Leo Mazzone makes it wrong. So does Jim Duquette, and when all is said and done, the incoming executive probably will have more to do with the Orioles' long-term success than the pitching coach.

But Mazzone, that's a coup. Mazzone has not been just an innocent bystander during the Atlanta Braves' decade-and-a-half-long victory parade. He has been one of the key components, maybe the key, if you buy the idea that the 14 straight division titles, five pennants and one World Series title were rooted in pitching. I know, duh.

Pitching has been the constant. Mazzone has been the constant. Pitchers win when he's working with them. Lots of them lose before he gets his hands and brains on them, and lots of them lose after they leave him. He's the real deal. He's not a creation of hype, not just some lucky guy who had John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine fall into his lap.

Plenty of coaches still fit the mold described 35 years ago by Jim Bouton, who in Ball Four skewered them as being fairly useless cronies of the manager or general manager. Bouton also noted that really good coaches (in his case, pitching coaches) can transcend that, and actually have been known to be of great benefit to the pitchers and the organization - if managers are secure enough to have them around.

Bobby Cox was secure enough in Atlanta. Perlozzo, a longtime friend, is secure enough here.

Joe Torre also is the type to be secure enough. That's not a small part of this story, or of why this is spectacular news for the Orioles. If Mazzone had turned down both the Orioles and the Yankees, it would have been a plus for the O's. If Mazzone had fallen for the Yankees' overtures, it would have been a huge negative for the O's.

Bringing him to Baltimore instead of the Bronx, then, doubles the pleasure. Instead of closing the gap a little, it closes it a lot. The gap is still huge, in purely bottom-line terms, the AL East standings. Financially, only time will tell, because it still says here that it's not how much money you spend (or are allowed to spend), but how you spend it.

That's where Duquette comes in. If - if - he and Mike Flanagan team up to be some sort of mid-Atlantic version of the A's front office, throwing smart money at the franchise's problems instead of just plain money, then this day will be remembered most for locking up Duquette.

Still, sealing the deal on Mazzone is, by every indication, an example of smart money, the smartest. It's the smartest money the Orioles have spent in two years, since they persuaded Miguel Tejada to come here. This, in fact, helps make that money spent even more worthwhile. In a sense, the Orioles owe Tejada a move like this, and several others.

Too many teams have made the mistake of paying big for one piece, then skimping on everything around him. Tejada deserves better than that, and so do Orioles fans who have gotten their hopes up the past two seasons watching him earn that big contract with a supporting cast that wasn't at his level.

Ray Miller, meanwhile, turns out to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, at least in a baseball sense. (He also is in recovery from surgery, which puts him in a bad place as well.) At least the Orioles have gone to great lengths to not hold him or Hendricks culpable in the mess of this season, or of the other bad ones in recent years. Still, if Mazzone is in, it appears, then Miller is out, and it is gracious of Miller to go along with that.

It's important to note both that Miller was not part of the problem, and that this won't stop Mazzone from becoming part of the solution.

Still wondering if the Orioles have a plan? There's no better plan than the one that finds the best at what he does, keeps him away from the Yankees and brings him here.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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