SEATTLE -- Despite his team's disastrous season pockmarked by widespread injuries, occasionally lethargic play and now a 10-game losing streak, Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos insists that Ray Miller will be back as manager for the 1999 season regardless of who succeeds Pat Gillick as general manager.
Maintaining that Miller and his club have faced "a mountain of adversity," Angelos said circumstances have made any critical evaluation of Miller unfair. Miller is serving the first year of a two-year, $1.4 million contract that also includes an option for 2000. Angelos does not plan to pick up the option yet.
"He's done a good job in difficult circumstances. He'll be back," Angelos said.
Swept in three consecutive series by sub-.500 teams, the fourth-place Orioles enter tonight's opener of a four-game series with the Seattle Mariners at 69-70. Their 10-game skid represents the franchise's longest losing streak since opening the 1988 season 0-21. This season is only the second in club history that has included three losing streaks of eight games or more.
Angelos hasn't communicated his sentiment to Miller, largely because the manager's job security has never become an internal issue.
Among those backing Miller is Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone, described by Angelos two weeks ago as "the front-runner" to succeed Gillick.
"It would be extremely tough to grade Ray on this season," Malone said. "I think everybody has learned a lot about adversity because of the injuries we went through. He's prepared. He cares. He's a hard worker and he loves the game. A lot of times you evaluate a manager solely on performance. But because of the significant number of injuries you take a broader view. He learned a lot. Everybody learned a lot."
The Orioles have discovered that they are a brittle team with precious little pitching depth. The loss of Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key, Scott Kamieniecki and Doug Drabek at various times this season wrecked any continuity.
Miller insists this team is a playoff entry when whole. He supports the claim by citing a 10-2 start and a 29-8 start to the second half that briefly pulled the Orioles within 6 1/2 games of the Boston Red Sox, who lead the American League wild-card chase.
"I think I've done a good job of holding this together," Miller said. "This thing could have blown up with all the injuries we had to go through. We still put together a solid run. We just gave out."
During the second half, injuries have ripped apart the Orioles' outfield while second baseman Roberto Alomar endured a stay on the disabled list because of a dislocated finger. While right TC fielder Eric Davis put together the major-leagues' longest hitting streak of the season, 30 games, he is fatigued.
"You can't lose three of five starters and be successful. We've had Robbie and Brady out. We've had to monitor Eric. It's just been one thing after another," Malone said.
During the first half, Malone bluntly criticized what he construed as a lack of enthusiasm within a veteran clubhouse and cited the manager's influence as a factor. Miller strongly argued the point with Malone; however, the two have since maintained a working relationship considered essential to the massive restructuring that many within the organization foresee this winter.
Malone said: "I think you can only do so much as a manager to motivate players and get them ready to play.
"Every player has to be accountable to himself."
Saying "even Earl Weaver couldn't win with all these injuries," Malone obliquely criticized several team members. Miller admitted Wednesday night he is "almost embarrassed" by the )) recent downturn.
"A lot of guys have to look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their most important goal is winning or something else. If it's not winning, there needs to be some re-evaluation," Malone said.
Less certain, however, is how much influence Miller will have in the team's rebuilding effort for next season. It is believed restructuring next year's club will be left almost exclusively to the next general manager. Miller actively participated in last winter's process, successfully lobbying for the signing of Drabek to a $1.8 million contract. No decisions have been made about Miller's coaching staff, all of whom enjoy two-year contracts.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Kingdome, Seattle
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Juan Guzman (8-14, 4.47) vs. Mariners' Paul Spoljaric (4-3, 5.94)
The Orioles' current 10-game losing streak is tied for the fifth longest in club history:
21:, April 4-29, 1988
14:, Aug. 11-26, 1954
12:, June 18-July 2, 1955
11:, July 28-Aug. 8, 1958
10:, June 3-13, 1987
Aug. 23-Sept. 2, 1998 (current)
Pub Date: 9/04/98