Melvin loses his first call THE HIRING OF PHIL REGAN


ARLINGTON, Texas -- They kept paging Phil Regan at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport yesterday morning, but no one responded.

An American Airlines flight arrived from Baltimore at 10:20 CDT.

A television crew from Dallas filmed passengers coming off the plane, but Regan was nowhere to be found.

"Phil Regan, call Doug Melvin. . . . Phil Regan, call Doug Melvin."

E.T., phone home.

"I thought he at least owed me a phone call," Melvin said last night after returning to his hotel from a day of house-hunting.

He may have found a new home.

But he lost a manager.

Who says Peter Angelos doesn't have a heart? The Orioles' hiring of Regan means that Johnny Oates is now the leading candidate to fill the managing vacancy in Texas.

Melvin, the Rangers' new general manager, said he was disappointed he never met with Regan.

But he can take comfort knowing his legacy will endure in Baltimore.

Maybe that's why Angelos failed to show for the Regan announcement yesterday.

He could never admit Melvin picked his manager.

Indeed, it was Melvin who recommended Regan to Orioles GM Roland Hemond, Melvin who forced the Orioles' hand with his plans to interview Regan for the Texas job.

Why else would the Orioles make their big announcement on a Sunday afternoon?

Why else would they hire Regan without conducting any other second interviews after trotting out nine candidates initially?

The Orioles lost Will Clark to Texas after getting the first crack at him last winter.

They weren't going to let Regan perform a similar escape.

So, given the choice of a strong personality (Davey Johnson) or an unknown commodity (Regan), the Orioles went with the unknown, blowing the chance to hire a proven winner.

But Johnson has a history of battling the front office, losing control of his clubhouse and paying little attention to fundamentals.

Regan, 57, will be easier to control, which probably is Angelos' preference.

Already, he's allowing the Orioles to name some of his coaches, even though he had the leverage of potential offers from Texas and possibly the Boston Red Sox.

This is his first managing job outside winter ball, and he'll need a strong bench coach -- someone like Oates was under Frank Robinson.

Will he make a good manager?

Well, Melvin thought so.

"I wouldn't say he was my No. 1 choice," Melvin said last night. "But I was intrigued by him."

The scary part is, the Orioles hired Regan largely on the basis of two interviews. If that's what it takes, Earl Weaver never would have gotten a job.

The encouraging part is, Melvin envisions Regan becoming another Roger Craig, the former San Francisco Giants manager whose specialty was handling pitchers.

He would have been perfect in Texas.

But as early as last Thursday, Melvin sensed him slipping away.

Regan called Melvin that night to say the Orioles might ask him to stay in Baltimore until Saturday, at which point they would offer him a contract.

Melvin passed the news to Rangers president Tom Schieffer but didn't cancel Regan's hotel reservation for Saturday night.

The reservation was under the name Don Mossi, a former pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Melvin grew up a Tigers fan in Chatham, Ontario. When Regan told him that Mossi had been his roommate in Detroit, it seemed like good karma.

But that was the last time they spoke.

By Saturday night, Melvin said he had a "gut feeling" that Regan was close to signing with the Orioles.

And when Regan didn't answer his airport page yesterday morning, Melvin was "sure something had happened."

He left his hotel at noon to shop for houses with his wife, Ellen. He returned at 6 p.m., and one of his messages was from a reporter in Baltimore:

"Regan hired."

Melvin said he was surprised by the Orioles' timing -- "it did seem funny it happened that quickly" -- but he reacted to the news calmly.

"It's not going to be the first time," he said.

"Welcome to the general manager's seat, right?"

The question now is whether Melvin will find a candidate more appealing than Oates. He seems fully prepared to make the move, even if it appears that he's hiring a crony.

"I'm sure that when you look at somebody like Johnny, they're going to say, 'It's a buddy thing,' " Melvin said.

"But [assistant GM] Sandy Johnson and I were talking, saying, 'What do we want to do in Texas? Do we want to bring in a winning attitude?'

"Johnny's record speaks for itself."

The Orioles were 38 games above .500 in Oates' three full seasons as manager, the sixth-best record in the majors and third best in the American League.

Melvin said he has even considered the addition of a coach who could help Oates bridge the gap to the Rangers' Latin stars -- Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Jose Canseco.

The whole thing might work. Oates would receive considerably less scrutiny in a football town and virtually no interference from an owner who might soon be governor of Texas.

As for Regan, he still owes Melvin a phone call.

To thank him for giving the Orioles the initial push -- and the final one, as well.

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