Orioles' selection of Phil Regan is change for better THE HIRING OF PHIL REGAN


It's a different direction for the Baltimore Orioles because for the first time in more than a quarter century they'll be directed by a man who wasn't schooled in their farm system as a player or manager. This is good. It offers a different dimension to the same old way of doing things. Instead, there's going to be a fresh approach.

Obviously, the Orioles didn't let sportswriters make the decision of Dave Johnson, who was the pre-selection favorite and the people's choice. Recycling the "old boys school" also takes a beating.

General manager Roland Hemond, in his introductory remarks, made the statement that Phil Regan has "seen more players the last 10 years than anyone in baseball." He could make the comment with little fear of contradiction because Regan has been in the game on an around-the-calendar basis, managing in Latin American winter leagues and scouting for the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Regan, with soft features and well-spoken manner, said the man who made the most important impact on his handling of players and situations was the late Walter Alston, Hall of Fame manager for the Dodgers. Alston wasn't into histrionics; sincerity and resolve were his attributes.

If Regan fulfills a personal desire to be anything like Alston, the Orioles have themselves a winner after conducting a rather unusual search for a manager -- much like a bank or corporation being on the hunt for the replacement of a top executive. It led to Regan, a manager of promise who made extraordinary improvement last season while pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians.

Some unusual developments emerge in the hiring of Regan. The Orioles, in the language of the wild West, literally cut off the Texas Rangers at the pass. Doug Melvin, general manager of the Rangers for only a week after being with the Orioles for nine years, wanted to interview Regan for the vacant managing job, but never got the chance.

The Orioles beat Melvin to the punch by wrapping up Regan before he could get out of Baltimore. It therefore could be deduced that Melvin, even though deep in the heart of Texas, influenced the appointment by first bringing up Regan's name to the Orioles and then, after becoming a general manager, putting DTC him high on his own managerial list.

In fact, the new manager still has an airline ticket in his pocket to Dallas-Fort Worth for a meeting about the position, but that's not going to happen. The trip won't be necessary.

From a historical standpoint, Regan becomes the first former pitcher (excluding Luman Harris, who finished out the 1961 season when Paul Richards defected to Houston) to manage the major-league Orioles.

Significant, too, is that he qualifies as the first manager to lead the club without an Orioles background in 26 years. Such predecessors as Johnny Oates, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken Sr., Joe Altobelli and Earl Weaver were programmed in the Oriole way of doing things, either playing for the club or managing in the farm system.

For Dave Johnson, who wanted the appointment, it's a disappointment. Johnson, besides being a first-rate leader and strategist, said all the right things, which began to sound as if they could be political overkill. As an applicant, Johnson mentioned he looked forward to the possibility of being around such an intelligent owner as Peter Angelos and that Tom Clancy, another Orioles investor, was an author whose books he thrilled to read. Johnson no doubt believes extending such compliments didn't score any points for his candidacy in the final countdown.

Angelos wasn't present for Regan's unveiling, which is worthy of applause. He let the four-man committee of Roland Hemond, Frank Robinson, Joe Foss and Russ Smouse do the early work, make the judgment and take the credit.

It was admirable of Angelos to let it happen that way. "I think it was his method of showing respect to all of us," explained Hemond. "It was Peter telling us if we fellows were thinking that way and liked Phil as much as we said, then by all means hire him."

The selection of Regan happened when the man perceived as the leading candidate, Johnson, was away on a trip. Hemond tried to call Dave at his Florida residence but could only leave a message. This happened after he informed the Cincinnati Reds that Regan, not Johnson, was the Orioles' preference.

There are some impressive parts to Regan's background. He pitched in the majors for 13 years after being signed originally by Jack Tighe for the Detroit Tigers. Once his career was over, he coached Grand Valley State College in Grand Rapids, Mich., which gave him a different look at how the game is played.

For the last decade he has managed during the winter in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, winning three Caribbean Series championships. The owner of the Caracas team, one Oscar Prieto, said he could have the job for as long as he wanted -- which is a rich testimonial to his ability. "I'll be going back to Venezuela soon because I feel an obligation," he said -- which tells something about his character.

Two years ago, Regan rejected the Miami Marlins. "I wanted to go with a club that could win," he explained. In his Baltimore remarks he offered a promise that few incoming managers would make when he added, "There's no doubt in my mind we are going to win."

As for getting along with the front office, he brings up Alston again when he says Walter told him "a manager has to stay in touch with the front office -- a matter of communication."

There's a seasoned attitude about Phil Regan, a quiet confidence that can only come with experience. He's more than ready to deal with the new adventure.

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