DETROIT — DETROIT -- There's no gray area involved when Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson expresses his opinion.
When it comes to the Orioles, especially manager Johnny Oates, Anderson does not hold back the superlatives.
"You could see it in spring training," Anderson said of the vast improvement shown by the Orioles this season. "I said then that Baltimore would be the most improved team this year -- not just in the American League, but in both leagues.
"The Orioles were the one team that had a chance to turn it around," added Anderson, who was impressed with the pitching staff. "That's the big thing, of course, but let me tell you something else . . . "
With that, Anderson launched a large dose of compliments Oates' way. "When you see Oakland the next time, ask Tony [La Russa, A's manager] what I told him," said Anderson. "And when you get to Milwaukee, ask [Brewers owner] Bud Selig what I told him.
"I told Tony, 'You're in for a treat. Do you remember when you were young? I know I remember when I was young -- and we've got another one on our hands.
" 'Johnny Oates is the best young manager I've seen since you came into the league,' " Anderson said of his talk with La Russa.
"When we were in Milwaukee, I told Selig the same thing. I told him I was sure his new guy [Phil Garner] would be a fine manager, 'but watch the guy in Baltimore -- and after you've watched him, make it a point to meet him.'
"I've watched them [the Orioles], and I remember what it used to be like," said Anderson. "He [Oates] showed me he can take a club and put it right into line.
"It's wonderful to have good young pitchers and good young players, but somebody has to make it all come together. . . . Johnny Oates is going to be around a long time. He's a fine man and the best young manager to come around in a long time."
When Anderson's comments were repeated to Oates, the Orioles manager reacted with embarrassment. "Phew," he said, "I hope it's not the kiss of death."
Anderson was one of the first to send Oates a congratulatory letter after he was named manager a little more than a year ago. As the senior manager in the American League, he is also the one Oates sought out for advice on how to handle the hidden problems that come with the job.
Call it a mutual admiration society, but there's obviously a special bond among Anderson, La Russa (whose style has influenced the Orioles manager) and Oates.
And if Anderson is as correct as he says he is, 10 years down the road some young manager will be earning an enthusiastic endorsement from Johnny Oates.