Orioles general manager Pat Gillick provided a lesson in shuttle diplomacy yesterday and might have turned the momentum, which for the past week suggested Davey Johnson's days as manager were numbered.
Two days after dining with Johnson near Orlando, Fla., Gillick met for more than two hours with Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos in his downtown law office. The meeting covered several issues, but dealt primarily with the manager's status.
Gillick and Angelos discussed the numerous "misunderstandings" that have created a wedge between the two and threaten to oust Johnson. While Gillick made clear the necessity for a quick resolution to a matter that has paralyzed the organization, Angelos apparently will wait at least several days before making a decision.
"As I said the other day, the matter is still under review," Angelos said yesterday.
If Johnson is not retained, the Orioles already appear to have his successor under contract, saying yesterday that the coaching staff -- including managerial candidates Ray Miller and Rick Down -- would return.
Gillick would prefer Johnson's return, even if it meant he would enter 1998 as a "lame duck" with no security beyond next season.
According to a club source, Gillick argued to maintain continuity. To that end, Gillick confirmed Johnson's entire coaching staff would be offered contracts for next season. Though Miller, the pitching coach, and Down, the hitting coach, already were guaranteed, third base coach Sam Perlozzo, first base coach John Stearns, bench coach Andy Etchebarren and longtime bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks are without contracts as of tomorrow.
"Definitely, they have a job," Gillick said.
Miller and Down would both be considered should Johnson depart. Miller managed the Minnesota Twins in 1985-86. Down has interviewed for four vacancies the past two off-seasons, most recently with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Tuesday.
Gillick, who on Oct. 22 said Johnson had a "50-50" chance of coming back, would not set a percentage on the likelihood of Johnson's return yesterday. But his apparent goal is to arrange a face-to-face meeting between Angelos and his manager.
An August meeting between the two was postponed and never rescheduled. Johnson said he tried to phone Angelos on Oct. 22, before he knew of Gillick's remarks, but was put off.
"If you have any sort of difference, it's best if it can be discussed or talked out," Gillick said. "I always think it's better to discuss the issue. I think we're dealing with two quite intelligent people."
Typical of a bridge-builder, Gillick said he is taking no position on the matters separating manager and owner. In recent days, Johnson has asked that Angelos either extend his three-year, $2.25 million contract beyond next season or negotiate a buyout of his final season.
Likewise, Angelos has ripped Johnson's handling of July's $10,500 fine of second baseman Roberto Alomar, which included directing the fine be paid to a charity that lists his wife, Susan, as a leading fund-raiser.
Johnson's agent, Skip Dalton, later called Angelos' objection an "artifice," blasting the owner's bringing Susan Johnson into the debate and contending the owner is only scraping for a reason to fire Johnson over a clash of personalities.
Johnson appears ready to drop the fine of Alomar. Doing so would defuse a potential grievance threatened by the players association on the grounds that the fine was excessive and that its beneficiary represents a conflict of interest.
"I've always said I love Baltimore. It's where I started as a player. It's where I always wanted to manage," Johnson said. "But I'm like anybody else. I'd like to know where I stand."
Angelos said yesterday that no decision will be made within the next 72 hours and reminded "there's a lot of time until next April."
Gillick and Angelos are scheduled to meet again today with the general manager optimistic a resolution is within sight. "I always like things to be resolved. I believe in happy endings," Gillick said.
There is a clamor within the organization that something be done quickly. Several club officials label the current condition as "paralysis."
Aside from Johnson's status, a strategy must be devised regarding the free-agent market, especially center fielder Brady Anderson and closer Randy Myers. Both expect to receive an offer from the club next week.
Meanwhile, representatives for Anderson say six other teams have expressed interest in him. The Orioles retain the sole
negotiating rights to Anderson, Myers, Harold Baines, Scott Kamieniecki, Jeff Reboulet, Lenny Webster and Shawn Boskie through Nov. 10.
The Orioles also have expressed interest in free-agent pitcher Darryl Kile, who filed for free agency on Tuesday. Kile fits the club's desire for a No. 2 starter. He was 19-7 with the Houston Astros last season and ranked in the NL's top five in wins, earned run average (2.57), innings pitched (255 2/3 ), strikeouts (205) and opponents' average (.225).
Acquiring Kile would remove an innings load from a bullpen that stumbled under the burden of an unproductive No. 5 starter late in the season. By acquiring another proven starter, the club would bump Jimmy Key into a No. 4 role and Kamieniecki, if re-signed, into the fifth starter's spot.
By the numbers, Johnson rates high
Since Earl Weaver's first retirement in 1982, the Orioles have had seven managers. Davey Johnson has the highest winning percentage among the seven. A look, including years managed, won-lost record and winning percentage:
1983-85 212-167 .559
1985-86 126-141 .472
Cal Ripken Sr.
1987-88 67-101 .399
1988-91 230-285 .447
1991-94 291-270 .519
1995 71-73 .493
1996-97 186-138 .574
Pub Date: 10/31/97