The Next Orioles Manager

The Baltimore Sun

Storied franchise looking for an on-field supervisor with good communication skills and ability to work under pressure.

Applicant must be an energetic people person who can deal with stinging criticism, sometimes from thousands at once.

Must be able to make split-second decisions, often while sitting next to a continually rocking employee.

Experience with underperforming millionaires and undefined management hierarchy preferred but not required

Willingness to demonstrate fiery theatrics (dirt-kicking, cap-turning) when employees are unjustly reprimanded a plus.

Salary negotiable (unless represented by Scott Boras).

The Orioles have hired a new manager seemingly every few years for the past decade or so. They've tabbed World Series champions and big names. They've developed their own and dipped into the hot-prospect well.

They've done just about everything but find the right manager at the right time to point them in the right direction in the long term.

So now, in another losing season, the Orioles are again studying their managerial options, hoping this is the year everything meshes, hoping this is the hire that makes everyone forget about past futility.

But the Orioles aren't yet sure exactly what or who they are looking for. Perhaps a mix of energy and attitude from a good, old-fashioned taskmaster could stop the spiral of losing. It would be a change, but in this era of baseball, that style is on the endangered list, if not already extinct.

What's more likely is the creation of a new hybrid, a custom fit that will work in Baltimore, but maybe not in other places. That, however, will take time, research and risk, because as Orioles fans have seen in the past, things don't always go as expected.

When Sam Perlozzo took over as manager in August 2005, players lauded him as a great teacher and coach who deserved an opportunity. By the time he was fired June 18, he had almost no supporters left in the clubhouse.

Perlozzo replaced Lee Mazzilli, a laid-back and popular New York Yankees coach who like Perlozzo had never before managed in the big leagues. His honeymoon period with the players was even shorter than Perlozzo's.

Mazzilli replaced Mike Hargrove, another former major leaguer, but one with a resume boasting past managerial success. Hargrove was edgier than Perlozzo and Mazzilli, but a fatherly quality attracted several young players to seek him out for personal advice. Most of the team liked and respected Hargrove, but his .425 winning percentage was worst in club history for anyone who had managed at least 1 1/2 seasons.

Before him was Ray Miller, the venerable pitching coach who eventually created such a divisive environment as manager that he once told reporters to ask "the millionaires" in the other room to explain why a game went horribly wrong.

Then there was Davey Johnson, a superlative tactician with a contagious swagger who didn't care if he irked players or management. He's the only one of the recent lot to have won here, but he did it with a star-studded roster, not the collection of complimentary players that has defined the Orioles for nearly a decade.

Now, eternal optimist and career dues-payer Dave Trembley gets an extended audition as interim manager. New club president Andy MacPhail said he has been inundated with names of potential long-term replacements, but likely won't be interviewing anyone until at least after July 31's non-waiver trade deadline.

If Trembley doesn't get the job, MacPhail will have to decide what kind of personality he wants for the 18th manager in team history - and ninth in owner Peter Angelos' 14-year tenure.

The club has seemingly shuffled through most types in the past decade. None has clicked with players and management simultaneously. So it's back to the beginning. But, perhaps in today's evolving game, a manager can't afford to be filed under one classification - such as the fabled, and perhaps nonexistent, "players' manager."

"It's difficult to have a 'players' manager' in this game, because everything now is already slanted to the players," said Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcaster and former Toronto Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez. "A manager more than ever has to be a psychologist. He has to know who needs a kick in the butt, who needs a pat on the back and who needs a hug."

Perlozzo was supposed to be a players' manager; that, too, was Mazzilli's reputation. And because those didn't work out, the inclination is to turn 180 degrees and find a so-called fiery disciplinarian.

Quest for fire?

The Orioles haven't had a screaming, in-your-face general since the most successful manager in club history, Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, hung up his dirt-kicking spikes in 1986.

Because of Weaver's success, however, the perception here is that winning and a fire-breathing leader are as intertwined as hardshell crabs and Old Bay seasoning.

In last week's Sun/baltimoresun.com baseball poll, readers were asked what trait they most wanted in a manager, and more than 40 percent said "a fiery mentality," trumping "Ties to the Oriole Way" and three others.

But finding a present-day Earl Weaver to dress down complacent ballplayers isn't easy.

"I think the days of the fiery managers have gone," Martinez said. "You can be a tactician and you can be organized. But screaming and hollering doesn't work with your children anymore, and it doesn't work with professional athletes anymore."

Perhaps the most recent embodiment of the high-energy hardnose is Larry Bowa, the Yankees third base coach, who managed the San Diego Padres (1987-1988) and the Philadelphia Phillies (2001-2004).

He said he had only a few absolutes for his players. The most important: hustle and be on time. Simple enough, he said, but if the front office doesn't support you in the enforcement of basic rules, no style of manager can succeed.

"Sometimes the hammer needs to drop on guys. And some managers don't have the hammer," Bowa said. "Some general managers say, 'This guy is my best player; I don't want you getting on him.'"

Bowa is not one for labels. He doesn't consider himself strictly a disciplinarian. But he said he knows teams will reverse direction from one manager's personality to another's. In Philadelphia, the intense Bowa followed wisecracking Terry Francona and then was replaced by the down-home nature of Charlie Manuel.

"You can let everybody go out and do what they want, and so long as you win, everything is fine," Bowa said. "But don't lose. Then everybody is saying, 'They need someone to come in and be tough.' If you have a disciplinarian and he's not winning, then they'll say, 'We need somebody who is loose.'"

The key, Bowa said, is making sure a manager's style and personality click with a team's personnel, whether that means hiring a new skipper or reshaping the roster. In Philadelphia, most of Bowa's players were laid-back, leading to awkward moments.

Bowa remembers one night yelling "You the man" type encouragement from the dugout to Phillies slugger Pat Burrell, who was at the plate with men on base in a tight contest. After the game, Bowa said Burrell politely took his manager aside, and said, "I don't like when you do that."

Said Bowa: "You learn from that. You have to make adjustments."

MacPhail said his plan with the Orioles is not necessarily to find the manager with the top reputation, but to find the one who fits best. He pointed to Yankees manager Joe Torre, who had only marginal success in three previous stops before carving out a likely Hall of Fame career in the Bronx.

No quick fix

Torre, in his 12th season with the Yankees, said MacPhail has the right idea.

"Unfortunately, we all want a quick fix. And it doesn't happen," Torre said. "A lot of times we think, 'Well, if we hire this guy, that will be well received.' I think it has to go beyond that. I think you have to hire somebody, as [MacPhail] said, to fit with your personnel."

Torre, Bowa and Martinez agree the Orioles need to take their time searching, then stick with their choice - even through rough patches. Stability, they say, is paramount for an organization.

"If players know you are going to be here for a while and they know this is how you want your team to play, guys are going to fall in line," Bowa said. "But there are a lot of teams now that say, [the manager] will be out of here in two years, so it's no big deal.

"So you have to have a master plan and then stick with that plan."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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