From the moment the decision was made to jettison Dave Trembley and install Juan Samuel as interim manager, there was really just one thing that could threaten the Orioles' search for the right outside candidate to take the permanent job and lead them into the future.
The risk inherent in hiring an interim manager -- especially early in the season -- is that the team just might take a hard right turn and leave room to wonder if the right guy was sitting there under your nose all along.
Of course, nobody was really worrying about that four weeks ago when the Orioles returned from New York and Andy MacPhail asked Samuel to hold down the fort while the team embarked on a baseballwide search for Trembley's permanent successor. The Orioles were playing so poorly that the likelihood of a significant turnaround seemed very remote.
Still does, but after sweeping the Washington Nationals over the weekend, the Orioles opened a three-game home series against the Oakland A's on Tuesday night with a four-game winning streak -- which doesn't really represent a major change in the competitive equation but does put the club closer to a situation where both ownership and the fans might be more accepting of the notion that Samuel deserves to finish the season.
Nobody is going to put much stock in one big weekend by a team that entered Tuesday 29 games below .500, but if the Orioles can put together a solid series against the A's and stay competitive on the upcoming road trip, you're going to start hearing talk about how the club is "responding" to Samuel.
It might be true. The O's looked like a different team as they staged a series of big comebacks that would have been unimaginable a month ago, but it stood to reason that they would eventually string together a few good performances. In baseball, you really can't lose them all.
Which brings us back to one of the reasons MacPhail waited so long to take the car keys away from Trembley.
The whole interim thing is a dangerous game, especially when it already has been played twice in a row without success. The Orioles let Sam Perlozzo win the permanent job after firing Lee Mazzilli in 2005, then put Trembley in a similar position in 2007. It was not an illogical thing to do in either of those cases, but the need for a very visible change in direction is so acute right now that the Orioles cannot afford to let this decision get out of their hands.
The franchise is at a crossroads where organizational credibility is as important as team chemistry. The fans want to know that the Orioles are not stuck in some endless cycle of indecisiveness. They want to know that -- in the end -- MacPhail won't just take the path of least resistance or the low-cost option.
This isn't really fair to Samuel, who might well be the best choice, but MacPhail and Angelos need to move quickly toward a decision on a new permanent manager if they want it to resonate in the stands and in the clubhouse.
The last thing they want to do is replace Samuel when the team is doing relatively well and risk a late-season downturn that erodes confidence in the new guy going into the 2011 season. So, if MacPhail is serious about the search possibly lasting several more weeks, it might be wise to announce that Samuel is going to finish the season either way.
There has been speculation that the permanent hire -- especially if it turns out to be Buck Showalter -- might stay on the sidelines for the rest of the season to evaluate the personnel from a safe distance. That sounds like a plan.
It also would be fairer to Samuel, who would get a legitimate audition, even if it turned out to be for another managerial job in another town.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) on Fridays and Saturdays at noon and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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