Done Deal: Mazzone Is O's Pitching Coach

Highly respected aide with Braves makes it clear he's accepting job here because of chance to join old friend Perlozzo

October 22, 2005|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

Lest there be any misunderstanding on why he would leave one of the most successful organizations in baseball over the last decade and a half or why he would shrug off interest from the New York Yankees to become the Orioles' new pitching coach, Leo Mazzone pointed to one factor.

"The main reason I am coming here is Sam Perlozzo is the manager," Mazzone said.

On a day on which the Orioles officially announced they had signed the game's most celebrated pitching coach, Perlozzo and Mazzone realized a goal that they began discussing many years ago as best friends growing up in Western Maryland.

And that, more than the three-year deal, which is believed will pay Mazzone close to $500,000 a season, according to sources close to the negotiations, likely making him the highest-paid pitching coach in the major leagues, is the reason that the longtime Atlanta Braves coach said he agreed to join the Orioles.

Mazzone is expected to be introducted to area media early next week, likely on Tuesday.

"The opportunities don't come where you can work with your best friend and come close to your home state," said Mazzone via conference call, also acknowledging that he wanted to be closer to his parents and three children who live in Maryland.

"I'm 57 years old and I want to finish with Sam in Baltimore. The Orioles had a great tradition of pitching and we hope to get that back again."

In 15 1/2 seasons as Braves pitching coach, Mazzone mentored six Cy Young Award winners, nine 20-game winners and 10 different All-Stars. In 12 of his last 14 seasons with the Braves - all resulting in division titles - Mazzone's staff finished first or second in the NL in ERA.

"Over the years, people think that he's been blessed with great pitching down there, but there's always two starters that he takes off the scrap heaps, resurrects their career and they leave Atlanta for a big contract and you don't hear too much about them after that," Perlozzo said. "I believe in what he does. I believe in this move."

That was the consensus throughout the organization, from Perlozzo to executive vice president Mike Flanagan to Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, all of whom felt the organization achieved a coup in getting Mazzone to succeed Ray Miller.

"With his incredible energy and enthusiasm, I told Leo that I was ready to go back to work with him and improve my game," said Flanagan, who has 167 career victories and one Cy Young Award on his resume.

"He makes our organization much stronger. It was an important acquisition for us and we went after it that way."

By all accounts, the Orioles moved swiftly and decisively to land Mazzone, who also was courted by the Yankees, a situation that he called "very tempting" because of his respect for manager Joe Torre and the fact that he grew up a Yankees fan.

"Mike Flanagan came out on the box and made it very clear that he was a man on the mission and he had the support of Mr. Angelos," said Jack Reale, Mazzone's agent.

"We had a pretty clear understanding for what we felt would be appropriate as compensation for Leo and when that was discussed with the Orioles, they concurred."

The Orioles received permission from Braves general manager John Schuerholz on Tuesday to talk with Mazzone and, by Wednesday afternoon, the two sides were already close to a deal.

Mazzone refused to take any parting shots at the Braves, who were believed to be paying him approximately $250,000, considered in the middle of the salary structure for pitching coaches.

He called Atlanta manager Bobby Cox "the biggest influence in his life," and Schuerholz "one of the finest GMs" in baseball. But in the end, it was clear that the Orioles, and not the Braves or Yankees, were making a bigger push for his services. And perhaps most importantly, Perlozzo was the Orioles' manager.

"I've always felt that I could probably get Leo, but this was the time it was supposed to be," Perlozzo said. "Certainly, I didn't think our friendship would get into a bidding war."

The Orioles are hoping Mazzone not only helps the team's young pitching staff, but also lures several free agents to the organization. According to team sources, the Orioles are interested in the Indians' Kevin Millwood and the Angels' Paul Byrd, both of whom were coached by Mazzone in Atlanta.

In the past, Mazzone has also been open about his desire to work with Florida right-hander A.J. Burnett, who may be the most-talented pitcher on the free agent market.

"I think that if you are any pitcher, you would want to work with him," Flanagan said.

Note -- Ex-Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey has accepted the team's offer to become the bullpen coach, leaving one opening on Perlozzo's staff. Perlozzo is still talking to candidates for either the bench or third base coach openings, depending on which job Tom Trebelhorn is assigned to ... As compensation for Mazzone, who was under contract with the Braves until mid-November, the Orioles sent Atlanta 21-year-old pitcher Moises Hernandez, who was 0-4 with a 3.08 ERA this season for short-season, Single-A Aberdeen.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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