Orioles manager Johnny Oates has yet to get the ultimate vote of confidence from the team's new ownership group, but he has gotten the good managing seal of approval from his peers.
The Sporting News will announce today that Oates was voted American League Manager of the Year in a late-season poll of the league's 14 managers. The actual vote count will not be released until today, but Oates narrowly out-polled New York Yankees manager Buck Showalter to win an award that can only help his uncertain contract situation.
"Considering who votes for this, it's the best of the bunch for me," Oates said from his home in Colonial Heights, Va. "It's very flattering to be chosen by the guys in the trenches."
It couldn't have come at a better time. Orioles managing general partner Peter G. Angelos has been leaning toward exercising a club option to renew Oates' contract for the 1994 season, but has yet to make the renewal official. He is expected to meet with Oates this week before finalizing his decision.
Oates appeared to be a lock to come back until the Orioles ended the season with a 6-13 slide that dropped them into a third-place tie with the Detroit Tigers. He has been widely praised by his fellow managers, but has taken a surprising amount of criticism at home, even though he has led the Orioles to winning records in each of his first two full seasons.
The Orioles had not had back-to-back seasons with a .500-or-better record since they strung together 18 from 1968 to '85, yet Oates has been a frequent target of unhappy fans.
"I know a certain number of people are not going to agree with what I do," he said. "I value the fans' opinion very much. I value their feelings. But I can't allow their reaction to the decisions that I make affect me. What does affect me is the reaction of the people that I work for. No. 1, I have to please myself, and No. 2, I have to please my boss."
His new boss has been occupied with the business of taking control of the franchise, but the Oates situation is high on his priority list. The club has until Oct. 31 to decide whether to exercise the contract option, but it seems likely that something will be announced much sooner than that.
Angelos was ill and not available for comment yesterday.
Oates has not pressed the issue, but it is no secret that he would like to see the situation resolved -- not only for himself but for everyone whose job might be affected.
"My biggest concern is, I've got six coaches who have no idea where they're at," Oates said. "They have no idea whether they should call the Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs and see if there are any opportunities there. I'm in a position where I can wait. Not all of them are."
No doubt, Oates would like to get a multi-year guarantee like the ones that have been extended to Showalter and many other major-league managers, but the Orioles had the foresight to lock him into a series of three club options when he signed a two-year contract after the 1991 season.
The uncertainty of his contract situation may have contributed to the stress that accompanied a roller-coaster season that included three winning streaks of eight games or more and several prolonged slumps.
"It was a very emotionally draining year," Oates said. "It was a very different season than I have ever experienced before. Now that I'm home reflecting on it, it's very rewarding that we were able to keep our heads above water."
The Orioles recovered from a 5-13 start to play the best baseball in the American League from May to August, but could not overcome a string of key injuries. Closer Gregg Olson missed most of the final two months because of a torn ligament in his elbow. No. 1 starter Mike Mussina was in and out of the rotation with back and shoulder problems. Top outfield prospect Jeffrey Hammonds was hindered by a potentially career-threatening neck injury.
Still, the Orioles stayed in the race until the final week against a Toronto Blue Jays club with superior talent.
"You can work hard, but you don't always get total results," Oates said. "I thought we made progress. I feel we didn't accomplish everything we set out to accomplish, but all things considered, I thought I did a decent job."
General manager Roland Hemond thought so, too. He was pleased to hear that Oates had been recognized by his peers.
"That's great news," Hemond said. "I was hoping that would be the case. I certainly feel he did a tremendous job. It's evident the other managers recognized that. I'm happy for him and the organization. It's richly deserved. To win any award that is voted by your peers -- that's pretty much the ultimate."