Miller safe D. Johnson would be out


CLEVELAND -- Davey would be gone by now.

It's the truth, isn't it? Owner Peter Angelos would be livid over the Orioles' 16-16 start. He'd be demanding answers, fuming to associates, looking for scapegoats.

And Davey Johnson would be gone.

"We've got the highest payroll in major-league history," Angelos might have said. "The manager is not getting the most out of his talent."

Managers have been fired for less, especially in Baltimore, where Cal Ripken Sr. lasted only six games in 1988.

But Ray Miller is safe.

He's Angelos' very own "oak tree."

The Chosen One.

Oh, it's not Miller's fault that the Orioles are collapsing on their canes, not after injuries to Mike Mussina, Brady Anderson and Scott Kamieniecki.

But rest assured, The Price Club would be in fire-the-manager territory if Angelos hadn't wedded himself to Miller after running Johnson, the 1997 AL Manager of the Year, out of town.

Miller is the owner's guy, even more than Phil Regan, who was selected by a four-man search committee. Miller has better job security than the Dalai Lama.

Which leads to the obvious question:

If it all falls apart, who will Angelos blame?

The leading candidates would be general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone, followed by the 13 potential free agents and then maybe the pitchers throwing 2-0 fastballs down the middle of the plate.

Anyone but Miller.

"[Pitching coach] Mike Flanagan can't turn it around. Ray Miller can't turn it around," outfielder Eric Davis said after last night's 14-5 loss to Cleveland. "The 25 guys in this room all have to turn it around."

Davis is right -- the players must be accountable. But Angelos didn't always view it that way with Johnson. And Miller is not above reproach, even if he's managing under diplomatic immunity.

The Orioles look ridiculous trying to be aggressive on the bases with their dinosaur lineup. And when the manager is a former pitching coach, suffice it to say that the team ERA shouldn't be 5.32.

Does Miller need new players?

"That's not my expertise," he said. "I'm supposed to take a $74 million payroll and win with it. Right now, we're not doing it.

"Obviously, middle relief has got to pitch better than it is right now. Obviously, the starting pitching has got to get better in front of the middle relief. I'm not happy with either one of them."

In fairness, the first half of Johnson's first season was equally rocky. He was new to the American League. He squabbled with Bobby Bonilla and Cal Ripken. He had Jimmy Myers and Keith Shepherd in his bullpen.

The Orioles were 50-51 before rallying for the wild card, and for that reason alone, Miller deserves the benefit of the doubt. Still, the Orioles already appear to have no chance of catching the Yankees.

They're 6-14 since their 10-2 start. They started last night seven games out of first place. And they've yet to face the Yankees, the Red Sox and Mariners.

Maybe they will turn it around this weekend in Tampa Bay, where the Devil Rays had lost 12 of 15 after winning last night. But then, they were supposed to turn it around in Cleveland, weren't they?

If the Orioles are still .500 in July, they might consider facing reality, dumping potential free agents and rebuilding around Mussina, Brady Anderson and Co.

But Angelos didn't allow that to happen two years ago, and with millions of tickets sold again, he's not going to allow to happen this time, either.

Gillick is in the last year of his

contract. Malone is working without one. If Angelos trusted them, he already would have rehired them. If he trusted them, maybe he would have kept Johnson.

Rest assured, No. 15 wouldn't panic at this point. He probably would create some absurd controversy, just to divert attention to himself. Surely, he'd figure out something.

With Miller, you have no idea what will happen.

He supposedly is a player's manager, but is that even a plus? Johnson had an ego as big as any of his players, and wasn't afraid to confront them.

His motivational tactics were unconventional, to say the least. But they worked.

Miller, on the other hand, has yet to turn over the clubhouse spread, yet to hold a closed-door meeting, yet to say a harsh word.

"I can have a meeting. I've thought about doing that. I've put it off," Miller said. "Raffy [Palmeiro] got doubled off in Chicago, but what the heck, we had given up 52 runs, and he was probably half-asleep, anyway.

"I talked to [Jeffrey] Hammonds tonight," Miller continued, referring to the center fielder's ill-advised attempt to advance to third on a grounder to short. "I didn't get mad at him. He was trying to do right, but it was not a very smart thing."

Maybe Miller is correct in his calm approach, maybe not. But if Johnson was still manager, you can bet that his leadership would be questioned.

Angelos doesn't understand the role of a manager -- he thinks you just buy all the best players and let them perform. Nor does he understand the role of a front office -- he believes you retool every year instead of building for the long haul.

Now his team is at an uncomfortable crossroads, with an unproven manager at the helm.

Davey would be gone by now.

Ray Miller is safe.

Ray Miller is The Chosen One.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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