Cost of players' late admission could be their manager's job

The Baltimore Sun

Finally, the players are taking responsibility. They're taking ownership. They're taking some of the heat off the manager and putting it where it belongs.

It shouldn't have taken until the middle of June, or until an eight-game losing streak, for the Orioles players - individually or collectively - to stand up and say, "This is our fault, we're letting everybody down." Or to say, more importantly, "We're going to fix this."

It was Kevin Millar who said it, even though it shouldn't have been he to say it, but in times like these, you can't afford to be picky. Every game of this homestand felt like the last straw, but yesterday really felt like it. The details of Loss No. 8, to the Arizona Diamondbacks, almost don't even matter, because they're about the same as the details from all the others. It's the sheer repetitiveness of it that's killing this team, and sucking the life out of the fan base.

The late-inning booing has been a recent addition, and the fans at Camden Yards spared no one yesterday. But even at the end, when Brian Roberts completed a thoroughly forgettable day - 0-for-5 and a wild throw that allowed the winning run to score in the eighth - by looking at a third strike, the remaining customers weren't even motivated enough to voice their disgust.

Between now and tomorrow's opener of a six-game West Coast swing, there apparently will be a players-only meeting. There might - might - be a managerial change, too. That speculation has grown throughout the losing streak. It could have been halted at any time, with a clear, unequivocal word of support from the clubhouse or from the front office. Or with a players-only meeting.

But it wasn't halted, because that word never came, from anybody.

Millar finally spoke it yesterday, spoke it angrily and conclusively. We'll find out soon enough whether he was too late to save Perlozzo.

Millar was on the field for only about a minute yesterday, long enough to whiff as a pinch hitter with the tying runs on and one out in the ninth, just before Roberts went down. That was irrelevant, though, when it came to who needed to step up and call the meeting.

"Me. Kevin Millar will lead that meeting. ... That's who's going to lead the meeting," he said.

Point made. No waiting around anymore for the captain or the veteran or the highest-paid player or the All-Star to plant his feet. It's long since been past time to debate who should be exerting leadership and influence; now, in this brutal skid, the important thing is to just do it.

And, even more important, it should not be Perlozzo. "He doesn't throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. We've got to do that. It's our business," Millar said, adding, "It's our team."

Quietly, his teammates agreed - those who didn't slip out of the clubhouse or march past reporters on their way out. If things go as planned the next two days, the Orioles players will all be in agreement, will have aired what needed to be aired, discovered the real culprit - the 25 culprits - and straightened them out.

But this is way overdue.

If this happens a month earlier, there is no fertile ground in which the speculation about Perlozzo's job could have grown. No reason to believe the players were tuning him out or waiting for him to get canned. No basis for the notion that he was losing the clubhouse, that it had lost faith in him.

Instead, the absence of any sense that the players needed to call themselves out put the bull's-eye on Perlozzo's back, at least a bigger one than he really deserved.

It could be just a coincidence, of course, that this show of accountability came one day after the Orioles shook up the bullpen, and one day after the team brass talked to The Sun about its "options" with the trade deadline coming next month, and about "constantly adjusting and refining the plan."

After the game - and before Millar spoke in the clubhouse - Perlozzo was asked, pretty much point-blank, whether he felt he had the support of the players or the front office, or both. Before answering, he paused. For six seconds (although it seemed longer). Started to reply. Then paused again. Then started again. Then paused again.

Then he said: "I think that what you're hearing is that the players know I'm trying to do everything I can possibly do to help the ballclub. I think that's nice to know that they feel that way. We all just have to go out and keep doing the best that we can do, and if something happens to the contrary, then it happens. If you start letting that bother you, then the job's not going to get done as well as it should be done. A couple of wins would help out."

If the players and management did know that, then they should have said it long ago.

At least one of them has said it now. After Game 69 and consecutive loss No. 8. It's about time.

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