For a guy who supposedly doesn't inspire passion, Johnny Oates sure got things fired up on the radio Monday night.
Oates' dismissal as Orioles manager was the equivalent of a 3-1 offering down the heart of the plate, and the talk show squawkers wasted no time jumping into the batter's box.
"It's got baseball back on the front page," said WCBM's Sta"The Fan" Charles. "Since Aug. 11 [the last night games were played], you start talking about baseball and the phones go dead. [Monday night] I didn't even have to prompt anything. The callers were there all night. They had something to talk about."
Charles' competitors, WWLG's Nestor Aparicio and new kid Josh Lewin of WBAL, were hamstrung by the fact that the firing didn't become public knowledge until just after 7:30 p.m., leaving them 30 minutes or less to tap fan reaction.
That doesn't mean they hadn't already formed their owopinions.
Lewin, who just arrived in town last week, took Orioles owner Peter Angelos to task for allowing a perceived personality conflict between himself and Oates to be the determining factor in whether the manager stayed or got the boot.
"If [Angelos] could evaluate the front office quickly, as he seemed to do, he should have been able to do the same for Johnny. It wasn't fair to have Johnny Oates twisting in the wind for 11 months," said Lewin, who got the first radio interview with Oates last night. "The whole thing was personality-driven. I wish he could have made this a performance issue."
Said Aparicio: "He [Oates] improved. He got better and he'll be a better manager wherever he goes. When he first got here, he had no clue about how to handle people. I'm sorry to see it happen."
As for Charles, who began calling for Oates' scalp during the summer of 1993, the firing exposed the fact that the former manager really had no base of support, either from fans or the front office.
"When things went south, he had nowhere to turn. He was always on the defensive. He's not a guy who engenders a lot of support," said Charles.
But a lot of phone calls, or so the talk show hosts hope.
Missing the big picture
Channel 11 got the first interview with Oates yesterday, as weekend sports anchor Mark Viviano and a crew sped down Interstate 95 before sunrise to corner the former manager at his Colonial Heights, Va., home around 8 a.m. for reports at noon, 6 and 11 p.m.
Channel 2's Scott Garceau, who led the pack Monday night, got a live interview with Oates near his home to lead the 6 p.m. newscast.
Although the hustle was commendable, the respective news judgment in leading with Oates at 6 -- almost 24 hours after he was fired -- was questionable in view of a stabbing of a teacher in a Howard County high school. The Orioles are important, but not that important. Apparently, only Channel 13 recognized that last night.
As part of its plan to counterprogram against football, CBS has announced plans to carry six figure skating competitions between Thanksgiving and Christmas on Saturdays and Sundays.
Since figure skating has now become the second most popular televised sport behind football, it seems like a fair bet that Channel 11 will carry some of the skating shows, unless, of course, a gripping "Rescue 911" repeat rears its ugly head.
The first seven parts of the PBS miniseries "Baseball" did very well for Maryland Public Television. All but one night, Thursday, exceeded the 2 rating/4 share the station normally attracts in prime time. A thunderstorm forced MPT's Annapolis transmitter off the air, and the station re-ran the "Shadow Ball" episode Monday night.