Facing O's, Yanks' Mazzilli refuses to be bitter

April 23, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

NEW YORK -- Lee Mazzilli and Mike Flanagan have spoken several times since Aug. 3, the day Mazzilli was told that he was relieved of his duties as Orioles manager. They have talked about baseball, about their families and about common past experiences. But there is one topic that has never - and Mazzilli says won't - come up in their conversations.

"I still haven't asked him [why I was fired]," Mazzilli said Friday. "I haven't asked my friend that. There is no reason to. Why? I don't want to put anyone in that position. It happened. That's the way it is. I still don't know to this day what the reason was."

Mazzilli, now the New York Yankees' bench coach, was both confident and comfortable, answering questions from both the Baltimore and local media here about his first meeting with his old team. He professed to holding no grudge against the Orioles and admitted he is rooting for the team, except during the 19 times this season when the Orioles play the Yankees.

"I pull for the guys that I was with," said Mazzilli, who called Flanagan, the Orioles executive vice president, and manager Sam Perlozzo before the season to wish them well. "I want to see them do well - but not against us. I saw the guys grow in two years, [and] they turned out to be pretty good players in this league."

When Mazzilli was dismissed last year and Perlozzo, his former bench coach, was given his job with the interim title, very few players spoke out about the move. Several players interviewed this week gave Mazzilli a lukewarm appraisal.

"It wasn't all his fault," Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons said. "I think somebody had to go and he was probably the easiest choice out of everybody. He didn't have a lot to work with. He didn't have his own [coaching] staff. In a lot of ways, he really never got a full shot. Then again, I am very happy with the staff we have now."

"I liked Maz, I got along great with him," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who was considered one of Mazzili's biggest supporters. " ... When things went bad, it wasn't his fault. He had nothing to do with it really."

Still, Mazzilli left amid talk that he had lost the clubhouse because of several of his rules - the one banning clubhouse music was easily one of the least popular - and what some of the Orioles perceived as a lack of communication. Several of his in-game and lineup decisions also were scrutinized.

"I think a lot of people liked Maz as a person," Gibbons said. "He was a very easygoing guy. He was funny. I really enjoyed him off the field. That's all I am going to say."

Said third baseman Melvin Mora: "He had his rules, but he never treated me bad."

Flanagan said that he and then-executive vice president Jim Beattie hired Mazzilli, then the Yankees first base coach, because he was from a winning organization and that "came through loud and clear." However, others felt that Mazzilli's Yankees roots never allowed him to be embraced in Baltimore.

"I thought it was kind of an interesting move from the get-go, to hire a Yankee guy since they've kind of been our nemesis," Gibbons said. "You have this Italian guy, this New Yorker managing the Orioles. I didn't think it was a great fit in that aspect."

While declining to offer any specifics, Mazzilli said that he would have done a couple of things differently in Baltimore. He admitted that he didn't have much of a relationship with team owner Peter Angelos, but he didn't say whether that led to his dismissal.

"You need to have a good relationship with your owner and your whole front office," he said. Asked about his relationship with Angelos, he said, "I dealt more with Flanny and Beattie."

For now, Mazzilli is content with being the bench coach for his longtime mentor, Joe Torre. He called his responsibility the second-best job in baseball, behind being a manager. However, he said his fire still burns to manage.

"It's in my blood," Mazzilli said. "It's the greatest job in the world, to manage a major league baseball team. There's only 30 in the world."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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