Buck Showalter doesn't pretend to be objective about Johnny Oates, his manager at Double-A Nashville in 1982 and Triple-A Columbus in '83. Still, the New York Yankees manager finds it difficult to believe Oates' job with the Orioles might be in jeopardy.
"It's a little hard for people on the field to fathom, with the things that Johnny represents, the things that Johnny does," Showalter said. "I'm a little biased, but from an opposing manager's standpoint, he's very impressive.
"It's not so much from a tactical standpoint -- though I think Johnny is as good a tactician as there is in our league. It's just the atmosphere he creates, the work habits of his team. You know when you play against Johnny's club, they'll be prepared and they'll be focused."
Showalter is not alone in his sentiments -- Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, another of Oates' American League East rivals, said virtually the same thing last week. But, with the Orioles' awaiting new ownership, Oates' future is uncertain.
Major-league baseball is expected to approve the ownership group led by Peter Angelos shortly after the season ends. The Orioles hold options on Oates' contract for the 1994 and '95 seasons. They must exercise the option for '94 by Oct. 31.
Showalter said he is aware of talk that Oates might not return, but added: "I always dismissed it as something that is not a realistic thing. It makes you realize how fragile your existence is if someone like Johnny is in trouble."
Oates, 47, replaced Frank Robinson as Orioles manager May 23, 1991. The Orioles finished that season 54-71 after going 13-24 for Robinson, but they've contended into September in each of Oates' two full seasons as manager.
Last season, the Orioles finished third in the American League East with an 89-73 record, and Oates finished third in the AL Manager of the Year balloting behind the Oakland Athletics' Tony La Russa and Milwaukee Brewers' Phil Garner.
This season, the Orioles were a half-game out of first place Sept. 9, but lost 10 of their next 13 games to fall out of contention. After last night's 8-3 loss to the Yankees, the club is 10 games behind the AL East-champion Toronto Blue Jays, with an 83-75 record.
Still, general manager Roland Hemond said this week that the season might have turned out different, if not for injuries to the Orioles' top returning RBI man (Mike Devereaux) leading home-run hitter (Chris Hoiles), No. 1 starting pitcher (Mike Mussina) and closer (Gregg Olson).
Like many in baseball, Showalter believes the Orioles performed as well as can be expected. He believes his former manager has earned long-term security, but understands the change in ownership is the reason for the questions surrounding Oates.
"I know that. I know there's a lot of things I'm not up on," Showalter said. "But at the same time, from a manager-to-manager standpoint, you know when guys are sharp. Johnny's sharp."