For Orioles, new nameplate but same fate at manager

The Kickoff

June 19, 2007|By RICK MAESE

The nameplate might as well be a name scribbled on a piece of paper. In pencil. Is it really worth memorizing anymore?

The Orioles' manager - Brand X.

The new boss - the old boss.

The old nightmare - the new reality.

The most amazing thing isn't that Sam Perlozzo lasted less than three months into what would have been his second full season as manager of the Orioles; it's that anyone thinks a managerial change really matters. The Orioles' canning their field boss in late June is like a mechanic replacing the propeller on a plane that has no wings. If it isn't built to get off the ground, does it really matter who's at the controls?

Perlozzo was fired yesterday as the Orioles' manager, and just so everyone's clear, it was a move that had to be made - at least for the 25 guys in the clubhouse. For the fan base and for the organization, though, it doesn't really matter whom you put in the manager's office anymore.

If the Orioles are serious about fielding a competitive team, yesterday's move needs to be the first of many changes. This organization is too damaged to think that changing a single nameplate is some finger-snap cure-all.

In his 14th season as owner, Peter Angelos has been through seven managers. History won't distinguish Perlozzo from Lee Mazzilli from Ray Miller. Their terms in office were mostly forgettable and blur together under a nine-year umbrella of losing.

Perlozzo made it 286 games on the job. Mazzilli lasted 269. Miller lasted 324. With the exception of Davey Johnson, they all lost in their own unique way, but most have at least this much in common: They never really stood a chance.

And unless Perlozzo's firing is followed by a series of other changes in the next few months - from the warehouse to the clubhouse - the next guy won't stand a chance, either.

The two pieces of news that leaked out of the warehouse yesterday - Goodbye, Sam; hello, Andy MacPhail - prompted different reactions. Perlozzo's departure felt almost like a nonstory, while MacPhail's reported addition to the front office actually inspires a bit of optimism.

The Orioles' problems have roots that run deep, and the field manager - no matter what the nameplate reads - can affect only so much. It's the ballclub's decision-makers who have allowed this cherished franchise to spoil, and if a respected baseball man such as MacPhail is allowed to make actual baseball decisions, real and tangible progress could be on the horizon.

This season, Perlozzo wasn't given the pieces for a competitive ball team. And fate certainly did him no favors, sidelining four pitchers who had a shot at the starting rotation. A series of questionable decisions didn't help Perlozzo's cause, and when a manager loses his clubhouse this early in the season, the front office has no choice but to make a change. But in no way does firing Perlozzo save the Orioles, because he was never that close to the root of the problem.

A decade of futility breeds such cynicism, but how could anyone in the warehouse think the Orioles are better today than they were yesterday? They've simply spun the ol' carousel around again, and the dizzy fans are reminded once again that they're just a variable in a too-familiar formula.

If anything, a new manager could keep this team out of the basement come October - a modest goal that probably won't boost ticket sales or enthusiasm through the summer. Hopefully, the Orioles brass realizes the problems hindering the ballclub aren't whatever interchangeable part is dropped in the manager's seat.

The manager's early dismissal isn't really about his failures; it's about the organization's. The Orioles are as inept as anyone in baseball when it comes to hiring decision-makers, which is why their biggest victories are when they manage to part ways with whichever savior-turned-scapegoat they trick into accepting an impossible task: win with unreasonable constraints.

In lieu of a decision that actually results in winning, the Orioles require their fans to take solace in moves that limit the losing. It's the difference between mediocrity and futility. In Mazzilli and Perlozzo. In one nameplate and another.

More change is needed - change in the front office, change in philosophy, change on the roster, and then maybe, a change of fortune. But a change of manager isn't nearly enough.

In this decade of losing, the Orioles have been content with subtle changes, nips and tucks in which the products are immeasurable, especially if you're one of those loony types who uses wins, losses and organizational growth as a gauge of success.

So now we wait with bated breath to see a new name penciled onto the nameplate. And if the Orioles really think they've cured their woes, we'll be left to count the days until they flip the pencil over and start erasing again.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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