His team, his time

Rewarded at last for his loyalty, O's manager Sam Perlozzo is right where he wants to be

Gameday

Opening Day Preview

Orioles vs. Devil Rays

April 03, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

He vividly remembers the phone call that delivered perhaps the most disappointing news of his professional life. He remembers the caller's tone of voice, his immediate reaction and the flurry of emotion that came over him.

"We want you to know that we made our decision," then-Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie told Sam Perlozzo in November 2003, "and we are going to go with Lee Mazzilli."

For weeks, Perlozzo had heard from people outside the organization that he was going to be the Orioles' next manager. How could he not, people thought. He was an Oriole, a Cumberland native who had grown up going to Memorial Stadium and watching Earl Weaver kick dirt at umpires.

An Orioles coach for eight seasons, he had paid his dues. After interviewing in previous years for manager's jobs in Baltimore (Mike Hargrove was hired) and Seattle (Bob Melvin), this was supposed to be Perlozzo's time.

"When I didn't get it with Maz, it hurt me," Perlozzo said. "I don't know any other way to say that. I had roots here. I put my 10 years in, was the loyal, good soldier and somebody that wasn't even really mentioned walks in and takes the job. That one hurt me. I just didn't think it was right."

Before hanging up the phone in his Columbia home that morning, Perlozzo wanted to know one more thing from Beattie and then-vice president Mike Flanagan, who called him via speakerphone.

"Where does that leave me?" Perlozzo asked.

Perlozzo was told that he would have a spot on Mazzilli's coaching staff, a promise that did little to lift the anger from the fact that a New York Yankees first base coach, with no big league managing experience, had taken his dream job. Perlozzo spent a day or so making calls and contemplating his options.

"Everybody asked him, `What are you going to do?' but I knew Sam wasn't going anywhere," said Beth Perlozzo, his wife of 10 years. "I just knew he wasn't. He's put too much work into making this team a winner."

Which brings Perlozzo, 55, to today, the Orioles' season opener against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He'll be introduced to the sold-out Camden Yards crowd as the 16th manager in club history, and he'll realize another childhood dream by taking a seat in the dugout next to pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who was drawn to Baltimore for no other reason than his friendship with Perlozzo.

"I've been thinking about it ever since I got the job," Perlozzo said about his Opening Day run down the orange carpet during introductions. "You are standing out there and it is Opening Day at Camden Yards and it's your ballclub. You'll never replace that. Hopefully, the biggest thing is nobody will see my knees knocking together."

Twists of fate

Perlozzo, who replaced the fired Mazzilli on Aug. 4 and had the interim tag removed from his name Oct. 12, said myriad thoughts will fly through his head today. There is what he called a crummy twist of fate that brought him back to Baltimore in 1996, his baseball upbringing and that phone call from Beattie and Flanagan that spurred brutal soul searching.

"I could've left, but I just didn't want to," said Perlozzo, who was Mazzilli's bench coach for 2004 and half of the 2005 season before Mazzilli was dismissed. "Why would I want to do all this hard work and let somebody else walk in here and win? My ego got in the way. That end would have crushed me, and I wasn't about to let it happen.

"I did not have a difficult time helping Maz a lick. But it was a constant reminder. Out of all my years, [2004] was the toughest year. It wasn't Maz's fault. He did everything he was supposed to do. He was trying to get a job, and I was, too."

Growing up in Western Maryland, where Perlozzo divided his loyalties between the Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates, managing a baseball team was never his goal. The speedy infielder with good hands wanted to play in the big leagues and wound up playing a total of 12 games for the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres after a standout career at George Washington.

"We all grew up watching the Orioles," said Tom Perlozzo, 47, the youngest of three Perlozzo brothers. "I think he learned a lot about the game from watching them in the '60s and '70s. There were a lot of heroes out there for him."

Perlozzo, who broke into coaching in 1982 as a minor league manager in the New York Mets' system, counts several mentors. He was the third base coach for former Orioles and Mets manager Davey Johnson in New York. Perlozzo continued that role for six seasons under Lou Piniella, first in Cincinnati, where he won a World Series ring in 1990, and then in Seattle.

Coming home

But when his father, Nick, who taught him the game as a longtime coach in the Dapper Dan Little League in Western Maryland, was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 and had a year or less to live, Perlozzo decided it was time to come home.

"I wasn't going to leave Lou just because Davey got the Baltimore job," Perlozzo said. "I couldn't make a lateral move, but this happened and I hate to say it was fate, but it was."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.