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More than just lip service

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Orioles fans probably remember former manager Ray Miller's infamous post-game tirade in April 1999, which almost got him fired on the spot - and would have if general manager Frank Wren had had any say in the matter. It made all the papers, dominated local call-in shows, and pretty much defined the Miller era in Baltimore.

The scene, which included Miller's dinner dripping down a wall and his right hand wrapped in a towel, unfolded after the Orioles blew another game at Camden Yards because of a bullpen that flinched every time it saw a lead. Tired of defending his team, Miller invited reporters to seek out players in the clubhouse rather than press him for excuses because "they're the ones making all the money."

It wasn't the smartest approach to take, especially by a manager who already had lost most of his support inside the B&O; warehouse and hung onto his job by his fingernails, which he routinely cleaned with a paperclip while sitting at his desk. But that's another unsightly image for another time.

Pittsburgh Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon provided reminders of Miller's tirade last week by unleashing a string of profanities after Tuesday's 6-4 loss to the Montreal Expos that would have made Eminem blush.

McClendon, the next studio analyst-in-waiting, swiped a tray filled with papers and lineup cards off his desk, scattering debris across his office at Olympic Stadium. What an odd time for a ticker-tape parade.

The mess didn't match the stain on Miller's wall, but it shocked reporters because he hadn't boiled over to that degree in three seasons as manager. And the Pirates gave him plenty of reasons.

McClendon said the purpose of his 52-second outburst, which came after the Pirates dropped 12 games below .500, was to send a message to his players.

Let's assume the message wasn't: "Your manager is losing his mind."

Before reporters were allowed into the clubhouse, McClendon could be heard shouting profanities from behind closed doors. He appeared much calmer when they filtered into his office, but after 20 seconds of silence, he unloaded during a session that included only two questions and 17 expletives.

Hard to believe anyone kept track, but it's a sport that lends itself to statistics.

A sampling of McClendon's outburst, which came in response to an inquiry about starter Jeff D'Amico: "He deserved to win the [expletive] game. We didn't [expletive] execute. We were [expletive expletive] on every [expletive] aspect of the [expletive) game. Now, you want to know the [expletive] reasons why? Go out there and ask the players because I don't have the [expletive] reasons.

"Sometimes, the onus has got to be on them."

As McClendon stormed out the door, he added, "Ask the [expletive] players.

"[Expletive], sometimes somebody's got to [expletive] stand up."

Uh oh. Did he really pull a Miller by shifting the blame to the players and throwing them under the bus? It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

Slide over Peter Gammons, the ESPN studio might be adding another chair.

Alert the censors.

Super-sized

Rookie pitcher Dewon Brazelton took one of the bigger tumbles in professional baseball when Tampa Bay demoted him last week. He'd better start working with a safety net.

The Devil Rays sent Brazelton, their No. 1 draft pick in 2001, to Single-A Bakersfield after he lost six of seven decisions and frustrated management with his casual approach and poor conditioning.

General manager Chuck LaMar said there was no timetable for Brazelton's return. "He'll let us know when he's ready by the way he's pitching."

Brazelton, whose waistline suggested that his protein shakes came from McDonald's, once took the wrong subway from the Devil Rays' hotel in New York and wound up in Brooklyn. Worse, he was the scheduled starter.

"Maybe he thought the game was at Ebbets Field," manager Lou Piniella said.

Brazelton didn't arrive at Yankee Stadium until 90 minutes before the first pitch and allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings. The Yankees knocked him out of Tuesday's game in the second inning, at which point LaMar began fitting him for a Bakersfield uniform - extra large.

"Preparation is just as important," Piniella said, "as going out and doing the actual pitching."

Angels are struggling

It appears the only repeating the Anaheim Angels are going to do this fall involves their explanations for a third-place finish in the American League West. Or the Mexican platter from the post-game spread.

They entered yesterday 13 1/2 games behind the Seattle Mariners, and enough potholes clutter their path to make another postseason run extremely difficult.

Pitcher Aaron Sele has been so ineffective, going 3-6 with a 7.01 ERA in nine starts, that he's no longer allowed to work past the fifth inning. Sele learned of his reduced schedule during Wednesday's meeting with manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black.

"Hopefully, this will be a short-term thing," Scioscia said.

The Angels are concerned about Sele's stamina and command, which suffered while he spent most of last season and the beginning of this year on the disabled list with a partially torn rotator cuff.

Scioscia's patience also is running low with shortstop David Eckstein, who didn't hit leadoff Tuesday for the first time since Oct. 6, 2001. His on-base percentage fell from .363 last year to .310. His average tumbled from .293 to .240.

A's are still battling

The Oakland Athletics are starting to resemble the teams of the early 1970s, and not only because they're winning.

For the second time this year, bickering inside the clubhouse has brought unwanted attention. No punches have been thrown, however, so this team pales in comparison to the free-swinging, threepeating clubs of three decades ago.

Manager Ken Macha angered Adam Piatt by saying it was time for the reserve outfielder to "start justifying to baseball that he's a player." The quote ran in the local papers. Piatt obviously can read.

"If that's the way he said it, it's disappointing to know your manager's not behind you," said Piatt, who has met with Macha several times this year to discuss his reduced role. The discussions haven't always been cordial.

Hitting coach Thad Bosley took some shots at Macha before being fired May 31.

At least former Oriole Chris Singleton has held his tongue. His average has hovered around .300 all season, but he has bought into a timeshare in center field.

"Chris has been an extreme gentleman," Macha said. "When I explain something to Chris, he understands that I am absolutely true to my word."

Tidbits

Right-hander Esteban Loaiza is trying to become the first Chicago White Sox pitcher to start the All-Star Game since Early Wynn in 1959. He would also be the first pitcher to start in his home ballpark since Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999. Loaiza has a legitimate chance with 11 wins and a 1.99 ERA. ... Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who signed with the Florida Marlins as a free agent after spurning the Orioles, hired Scott Boras as his agent earlier this month. He used Jeff Moorad for the past seven years. "Situations happened the last two years with Jeff Moorad, and I made a change," he said without elaborating. ... Forget the rumored three-way deal involving Colorado outfielder Larry Walker, who would go to the New York Yankees while Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell went to the Rockies. "We have no plans to revisit that one," said GM Dan O'Dowd, who attempted to send Walker to Arizona over the winter. "We fully expect Larry to play out his contract [through 2005] with the Colorado Rockies."

Quote of the week

"The way I look at it, if someone would like to keep first place warm for us, then that's great. We didn't hang our banner for being AL Central champs last year in June." - Minnesota Twins infielder and resident spokesman Denny Hocking, after his team lost for the eighth time in 10 games to fall into a first-place tie with the Kansas City Royals.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

Cincinnati Reds right-hander Paul Wilson

Cincinnati Reds right-hander Paul Wilson takes exception to an inside fastball while squaring to bunt, drops his bat and moves toward the mound - a pitcher charging a pitcher. Sure he has guts. Most pitchers backpedal at the site of an aggressor. Wilson decided to become one, and probably assumed he had picked a safe opponent.

Just one problem: He provoked Chicago Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth, a former high school football player who finally had a chance to make solid contact at the plate - by running toward it and tackling Wilson head-on.

Wilson's poor judgment netted him a five-game suspension, which he began serving Thursday. But Farnsworth had his penalty reduced from three games to two after appealing. For losing twice, Wilson registers an 8.5 on the new Kubatko meter.

TEAM RANKINGS

1. Mariners Edgar Martinez holding off retirement until his first Social Security check clears.

2. Braves Maybe John Smoltz should start and Greg Maddux should close.

3. Yankees Another trade needed to help bullpen, but Ugueth Urbina and Armando Benitez are losing their appeal.

4. Giants Using both hands to fend off the Dodgers in the National League West. They'll miss Kurt Ainsworth.

5. Red Sox Johnny Damon came within a homer of hitting for the cycle Friday - in the first inning.

6. Blue Jays Carlos Delgado tormenting diners at SkyDome. "Waiter, there's a fly ball in my soup."

7. Dodgers Offense averaging NL-worst 3.6 runs a game. Luckily, Kevin Brown only needs one.

8. Athletics Playoff contenders if they don't kill each other first. Can't we all just get along?

9. Diamondbacks Surging even though Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling are out. Illegal to use mirrors?

10. Royals Least likely success story since the last Eddie Murphy movie.

11. Expos Vladimir Guerrero could return sooner than expected. Feel the excitement in D.C.?

12. Phillies Playing so well Larry Bowa smashed a water cooler just out of habit.

13. Cubs Sammy Sosa is no longer talking to the media. Now he's corking his mouth.

14. Cardinals Running out of healthy second basemen. Anyone have Tommy Herr on speed dial?

15. Astros No structural damage in Jeff Kent's wrist. Can't say the same about his personality.

16. Twins Rotation is bringing down this team, and fans are clamoring for Johan Santana to join it.

17. Marlins Does anyone else look at rookie Dontrelle Willis and think Vida Blue?

18. Rockies Produced the NL's first 11-game winner in Shawn Chacon. But who doesn't love pitching in Colorado?

19. White Sox Mark Buehrle has resurfaced as a dominant member of the rotation. Call off the search.

20. Angels Getting their wings clipped so often, the team should install a barber's pole outside the clubhouse.

21. Reds Tired of teams picking on them, they're fighting mad. Let Paul Wilson roll the bandages.

22. Orioles Somehow, Rick Dempsey was named Most Valuable Player of the weekend series against the Phillies.

23. Pirates Memo to self: Double the sessions in Lloyd McClendon's anger management classes.

24. Mets Only way this team makes the back pages is if tabloids move the obits there.

25. Brewers Any positive references to this team should be contracted.

26. Indians It's a good thing they fired Mike Hargrove before he dragged down this franchise.

27. Rangers Juan Gonzalez contemplating a proposed trade to the Newark Bears. Would have better chance of winning there.

28. Devil Rays When your best power hitter is named Aubrey, you're in a lot of trouble.

29. Padres Tony Gwynn asked to be inducted into Hall of Fame as a Marlin.

30. Tigers Need a team slogan that doesn't include the word "stinks."

Schmuck off

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko has written this week's baseball notebook, team rankings and "Quotient," filling in for staffer Peter Schmuck.

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