O's pick long-shot Regan

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Older than Davey Johnson, not nearly as high-profile and not as experienced, Phil Regan overcame all of those factors yesterday to become the Orioles' 11th manager.

Twenty-eight years after stranding Johnson on third base in a World Series game, Regan kept Johnson from scoring again.

This time, Johnson was on a fishing boat in the Florida Keys while Regan was being introduced at a Camden Yards news conference as the successor to fired Johnny Oates. The ballclub will follow that up today by announcing the hiring of popular former Orioles left-hander Mike Flanagan as pitching coach.

Regan, 57, received a two-year contract at an estimated annual salary of $350,000, with a club option for a third year.

A native of Otsego, Mich., Regan never has managed in the major or minor leagues, but he has done just about everything else in baseball. He left his post as Cleveland Indians pitching coach to take the job.

"With a couple of additions here and there, I think we can win the pennant," said Regan, a former major-league pitcher who faced the Orioles in the 1966 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I wanted my first job to be with a club that had a chance to win. I think we can win next year."

Regan, who manages the Caracas Lions of the Venezuelan League, said he will return there later this week and spend three to four weeks managing the team before coming to Baltimore to prepare for next season.

Regan was considered a long shot at the outset, and Johnson, 51, manager of the Cincinnati Reds and an ex-Oriole, the favorite. The Orioles were denied permission to speak to Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa, and remained hopeful until recently that he would become available. But he never did.

One of nine candidates interviewed, Regan impressed the Orioles' four-man search committee of general manager Roland Hemond, assistant general manager Frank Robinson, club vice chairman for business Joe Foss and Russell Smouse, a senior lawyer with Orioles owner Peter Angelos' law firm.

The more the Orioles asked around about Regan, the more they kept hearing comparisons with late Dodgers manager Walter Alston, Regan's idol, and former San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig.

Like Craig, Regan places pitching first and favors an aggressive base-running style.

Regan's career

Regan split 13 seasons in the major leagues as a starting pitcher and a reliever. He coached and taught a baseball class for 10 years at Grand Valley State College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He worked as a minor-league pitching instructor and a major-league pitching coach for the Seattle Mariners before becoming a scout for the Dodgers and a winter league manager in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Regan took a job as Cleveland Indians pitching coach in 1994, overseeing a staff that led the major leagues in complete games (17). His strategy worked.

"We were all equally strong behind Phil," Robinson said. "Nobody had to be talked into this."

Why Regan and not Johnson?

"That's the question I would like answered," Johnson said. "But I wish Phil well except if I manage against him with a championship on the line."

Johnson's disappointment was evident.

"I heard they wanted an experienced manager and a proven winner," Johnson said. "That's why I interviewed for the job. But I guess that's not what they wanted, right?"

Why Regan and not Johnson?

"I just think we had a feeling Phil was the man," Robinson said. "In interviewing him, in looking at his background, we felt he was the man. It's not that we felt Davey Johnson wasn't the man. We weren't comparing him against Davey Johnson. We just had the feeling Phil was the right man for this job."

Robinson could relate to the dues Regan paid before landing his first managing job. Like Regan, Robinson managed a decade in Latin America as preparation.

"He's been successful at everything he's done," Robinson said of Regan. "And he's not just there for the good times; he's there to carry the job through to the end. He managed 10 consecutive years, and that said something to me."

Though no one associated with the Orioles would say so, Johnson's reputation for being too strong-willed might have counted against him, counteracting a record that includes a World Series title, three first-place finishes and four second-place finishes with the New York Mets and Reds. "I realize there are probably some people upset Davey Johnson was not hired," Regan said. "All I ask is that they judge me by what the team does on the field."

During seven seasons with the Dodgers, Regan was general manager Fred Claire's most trusted adviser on trades and other player personnel matters. He has a feel for what the front office goes through and anticipates working well with Orioles decision-makers.

"You have to have a happy marriage with the front office," Regan said. "I'm big on communication, and it's a team effort. I don't anticipate having any problems working with the front office and Peter."

Foss said the Orioles contacted Regan late last week in Venezuela and told him that they were bringing him to Baltimore with the intention of offering him the job, unless Angelos vetoed the committee's recommendation.

Angelos' approval

After meeting Regan for the first time over the weekend, Angelos gave his approval. Angelos did not appear at yesterday's news conference.

The Orioles wasted no time in bringing Regan back once former assistant general manager Doug Melvin was hired as GM of the Texas Rangers. It was Melvin who recommended to the Orioles that they interview Regan. And Regan was at the top of Melvin's list of managerial candidates after Melvin fired Kevin Kennedy in Texas.

"Nothing against Texas, but in my mind, if you weigh the two ballclubs, I think Baltimore has a better chance to win," Regan said. "They have better pitching."

Regan said that while he was on a conference call with the Orioles on Wednesday, the Venezuelan telephone operator interrupted, informing him that Melvin was trying to reach him. Regan said he told the operator he would be there in a minute, then took the call.

Pitching always has been Regan's specialty. He went 96-81 with 92 career saves for the Detroit Tigers, Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.

He had not been with the White Sox long when Hemond informed him that he was being released, which ended his career in 1972.

The Reds were insisting on pitcher Brad Pennington as compensation for Johnson, but Orioles officials said that was not a factor in not hiring him.

Now, Johnson is left wondering if he would have been better off not accepting the Orioles' invitation to interview for the job.

"It may hurt my chances of even going back to Cincinnati," Johnson said. "If I didn't have so many ties in Baltimore it wouldn't be so disappointing. I would have felt such a good relationship with people there. The new ballpark. It's a good organization. Good young players. I know the team because we played them in spring training. I thought I'd have a chance to meet Tom Clancy and Peter Angelos in a second interview, but I didn't. I never understood getting fired in New York and I don't understand not getting a second go around in Baltimore. It surprises me, but that's baseball."

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