With Twins, Miller met frustration Manager didn't last to see finished project

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It has taken nearly 12 years to get a second chance, and new Orioles manager Ray Miller wants to make it work this time. He managed the Minnesota Twins for parts of 1985 and 1986, but it wasn't a particularly positive experience.

The Twins were a developing team and Miller was a rookie manager, fresh off the Orioles' coaching staff and eager to take the next logical step in the on-field progression of a top-flight major-league coach. He had cut his teeth under Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, but the Oriole Way just didn't play on a team that was still under construction.

Miller was frustrated by the organization's unwillingness to balance the roster with added pitching depth and veteran talent. Club officials apparently were frustrated by Miller's unwillingness to understand the constraints they were working under. The result was an unfriendly parting that featured broadsides from both sides and some lingering bad blood between Miller and then-Twins president Howard Fox.

"It was right at that point in time when salaries were skyrocketing and the concept of small market vs. large market was first being talked about," Miller said. "I guess I was a little [naive] then. I made about 76 appearances in the winter promising the people of Minnesota that we would do everything possible to put a winning team on the field. Then I asked for a leadoff hitter, a closer and another pitcher, and I didn't get it."

The Twins went on to win the World Series the year after he was fired with a 59-80 record, but the front office had made many of the improvements that Miller requested before he was relieved of his duties. He had a 109-130 record.

"I take no credit for the World Series," Miller said, "but I take tremendous pride in the fact that we put a program in place there. The coaching staff I left behind has the longest tenure of any one in baseball, which is something I'm very proud of."

Miller has mellowed some since then, but still bears some scars from his first attempt to manage in the majors. Time may have softened the memory of those 15 months in the mid-1980s, but not the resolve to prove that he was the right man for the job then and the right man to lead the Orioles now.

"I don't think I'm looking for vindication," he said, "but I thought I did a lot better than people thought I did."

There were some bridges burned in Minnesota -- and some players who felt that Miller unjustly blamed them for the club's underachievement in 1986 -- but others remember him as a capable guy cast in a difficult situation.

"He stepped into a tough situation talent-wise," former Twins outfielder Randy Bush said. "A manager's only going to be as good as the talent he has, and we weren't very talented at that point. But he was very fair. His door was always open, and he was easy to talk to. He was open-minded and was able to give guys a chance and then sit back and make his own evaluations, and I think it's very important to have that objectivity as a &L; manager. You have to respect that."

Miller didn't have a tough act to follow in Minnesota. Instead, he was followed by one -- Tom Kelly, who won two world championships and has the longest tenure of any active manager in the majors. Miller naturally pales in comparison, which further clouds his days with the Twins.

"I thought he did all right, but I played for one of the best managers, if not the best, in Tom Kelly," said Kent Hrbek, a first baseman who retired after the 1994 season. "He wasn't a Tom Kelly, just the way he approached the players and approached the game himself. As far as getting along with the manager, I think people got along a lot better with T.K. than they did with Ray. But Ray wasn't there that long, so we didn't get to know him that well.

"Minnesota was a very different place than coming from Baltimore. I think he wanted to change some things, and some things didn't work the way he wanted. I don't think he left on a bad note or anything like that. I wish the best of everything for Ray. He's a nice guy, a great guy. Ray was even at my wedding."

Former catcher Tim Laudner said Kelly benefited from having established a relationship with many of the players in the minor leagues and as third base coach under Miller, who was viewed as an outsider.

"When Ray came in, he respected the fact that the coaching staff was fairly intact and he left it that way, which is good and bad," said Laudner, who retired seven years ago and runs the heating division for a plumbing and heating company in Minneapolis. "It's good for the people who are in there, but probably didn't work to Ray's advantage because they weren't Ray's people. And you know how that works in baseball.

"I'm not saying those coaches didn't go out of their way, but there was a little bit of friction between Ray and the existing pitching coach, Johnny Podres."

Hrbek referred to similar problems, noting Miller's tendency to focus his attention on the pitching staff.

"Tom Kelly has a great way with players," Hrbek said. "It didn't seem like Ray had that kind of way, maybe because he was talking with the pitchers all the time. Ray's job as manager now is to manage, and let the pitching coach take care of the pitchers."

Miller probably doesn't have a stronger supporter than Bush, a JTC designated hitter until Miller tore off the one-dimensional label and put him in the outfield.

"He gave me some great opportunities to play, and I'll always remember that and appreciate that. And I know he did that for some other players also," said Bush, who stayed in the majors until summer 1993 and now owns an indoor sports recreation facility in New Orleans.

"I think he wanted to see exactly what he had in terms of talent on the team, so he gave some guys an opportunity who maybe hadn't had one before."

Bush said he remembers Miller as "very much being a player's manager" and disputed the notion there was dissension in the Twins' clubhouse.

"He had very few rules," Bush said, "and really all he asked was that you go out there and give 100 percent. And he was very supportive of the players. So, I think it's great that he's getting this opportunity now. As a pitching coach his record speaks for itself, and as a manager now, having had that experience early on, I think he's going to do a great job. I wish him all the best. I consider him a friend of mine."

"I didn't have a problem with Ray," Laudner said. "Ray was honest, right up front. He told you exactly the way it was, how it was. I think he'll probably do better in his second stint as manager than his first. It's a learning experience."

Potential Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven agrees. He remembers Miller as a "no-nonsense guy," but concedes that Miller probably paid more attention to the pitching staff than the position players.

"I think the experience was very good for him," Blyleven said. "I think he'll be better for it. He kind of set the stage for Tom Kelly. Ray leaned more toward the pitching side, because he had a pitching background. He relied a lot on T.K. [Kelly] and the other coaches.

"He knows the players over there, which will help. It's tough to go into a situation where you don't know anybody."

Miller would like to focus on the positive. This is a new -- and different -- situation, but he couldn't hide his feelings in the aftermath of his firing.

"I'm bitter," he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1987, "because I don't think it was ever really said that Gary Gaetti had his best year ever for me, that it was me who decided that [Greg] Gagne and Steve Lombardozzi could do the job, that Tony Oliva and I worked with Kirby Puckett, getting him to pull the ball and he went from four home runs to 31.

"There were an awful lot of good things that happened there. A good program."

Miller file

Managerial career: Left as the Orioles pitching coach when he was selected manager of the Minnesota Twins on June 21, 1985. The Twins went 50-50 under Miller that year, finishing in a tie for fourth in the AL West In 1986, Miller directed Minnesota to a 59-80 record when he was replaced by current manager Tom Kelly on Sept. 12.

Coaching career: Has been a major-league pitching coach for 18 full seasons, with the teams finishing first or second 10 times. Served as the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach for 10 years before returning for his second stint with the Orioles this past season. Was the pitching coach of the Orioles from 1978 to mid-1985, and in that time the team went to the World Series twice, had five 20-game winners and two Cy Young Award-winners. Was Orioles' minor-league pitching instructor from 1974-77 Coached the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff from 1986-96 during which time Doug Drabek and John Smiley recorded 20-win seasons.

Playing career: Had a 10-year professional pitching career, but never cracked the majors Compiled a 60-65 record from 1964-73 in three different organizations. Was signed by San Francisco in 1963.

Personal: Turned 52 on April 30. Grew up in Forestville, Md., and graduated from Suitland High where he earned All-State honors in baseball.

Managerial record:

Year, Club, W, L, Pct., Pos.

1985, Minn., 50, 50, .500, 4th

1986, Minn., 59, 80, .424, 7th

Totals 109, 130, .456

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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