Mazzone's departure spins with intrigue

October 13, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

When pitching coach Leo Mazzone parted ways with the Orioles yesterday, the only real blemish on his long track record - surprise, surprise - was the two years he spent in Baltimore.

He was just another well-regarded baseball guy who showed up here all bright and shiny and left a little bit tarnished.

Maybe that's what happens when you sign on for a suicide mission, though it wouldn't be fair to absolve Mazzone of all responsibility for his inability to get more out of the Orioles pitching staff.

Sure, he finished the 2007 season with just one of the pitchers originally projected to be in the starting rotation and lost his promising young closer at midseason to a serious elbow injury. Sure, the much-ballyhooed $42 million offseason bullpen renovation last winter turned out to be a major bust.

But Mazzone rankled ownership and upper management with his gruff demeanor and didn't make enough friends (or the right friends) in the organization to avoid meeting the same fate as hometown buddy Sam Perlozzo, who was the first guy fired this year for getting lousy results from a lousy team.

He was an easy target because - all legitimate rationalization aside - there is no way to dress up those results. The Orioles ranked 29th among the 30 major league franchises in team ERA in 2006 (5.35) and ranked 29th again this season in spite of some improvement (5.17).

There was no great injustice done here. Mazzone was paid very well for the first two years of his contract and will be paid very well for the 2008 season. He will eventually land with another team and probably show up in the postseason in a year or two like everybody else who leaves the Orioles.

The Orioles might be better off, too, even though they will be paying an unemployed coach $500,000 to do nothing for them next year - if their reasons for firing Mazzone are genuine.

If, in fact, manager Dave Trembley made this decision because he wasn't comfortable with Mazzone or personally felt he wasn't the right man to develop the Orioles' young pitchers, then this is a step in the right organizational direction. The club has long been criticized for giving each new manager too little input in the makeup of the coaching staff, but that appears to be changing.

Though there still are a couple of holdovers from the Perlozzo staff - hitting coach Terry Crowley and third base coach Juan Samuel - the departure of Mazzone and longtime coach Tom Trebelhorn has created two more openings that could be filled from outside the organization. Trembley already added bullpen coach Alan Dunn during the season and is believed to be leaning toward highly respected former Florida Marlins pitching coach Rick Kranitz to replace Mazzone.

Of course, no high-profile Orioles personnel change would be complete without a certain amount of front office intrigue. Mazzone's dismissal is no exception.

Cynical Orioles fans still have a right to wonder who is pulling the strings in the organization four months after the surprising announcement in June that owner Peter Angelos was handing over control of the day-to-day operations of the franchise to Andy MacPhail.

MacPhail ostensibly has been given full authority to streamline the front office and rebuild the team, but the past two major personnel moves have raised as many questions as they have answered.

Baseball operations vice president Jim Duquette's recent resignation has focused attention on Mike Flanagan's unresolved status, which will be perceived by many as a litmus test for MacPhail's supposed autonomy.

Mazzone's departure might be exactly as it appears, but it would surprise no one if the owner's fingerprints showed up somewhere on it because it was common knowledge around the front office that Angelos was not enamored of the crusty pitching coach.

Maybe someday, that kind of speculation will no longer be so easy to come by, but the Orioles have a lot of history to overcome.

Maybe they finally have learned from it.

Maybe not.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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