More than two years after he was given his long-awaited opportunity to manage in the major leagues, Dave Trembley is still guiding the Orioles amid the perception that he's simply holding down the job for somebody else.
Trembley rid himself of the "interim" tag during the 2007 season on the same day the Orioles suffered one of the most humiliating losses in team sports history, a 30-3 clobbering at the hands of the Texas Rangers. Still, the notion that he's a transitional manager, in charge until the Orioles are ready to emerge from the rebuilding process and become a playoff contender, has never quite left. When the time is right, the team will be turned over to a manager with a bigger name and a better big league resume, or so the perception goes.
"I'm the holding tank, I'm here until it gets real good. I've heard all that stuff," Trembley said. "I don't think I work for people like that. I don't think I would be treated like that because I've never treated how I do this in that way. To me, that's kind of a half-hearted approach from all angles. I think you hire the best guy available for the environment and the situation and the circumstances that you have. And I still think I'm that guy. And if it's decided that I'm not, it won't be because I didn't do the best I could."
Trembley, 57, has compiled a 148-194 record since taking the helm after spending two decades managing in the minor leagues. He doesn't have a guaranteed contract past this season, though his contract does include a club option for 2010, and speculation has begun about whether Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail will exercise it.
"It will be determined as we get closer to the end of the season, probably later in the season than it's been in the past, just by virtue of the timing of the last two years," MacPhail said, referring to the team's struggles the past two seasons after the announcements that Trembley would be retained.
Trembley, who started the 2007 season as Sam Perlozzo's bullpen coach, shed the "interim" label and was signed to a one-year deal and a club option for 2009 on Aug. 22, 2007. Later that day, the Orioles were beaten, 30-3, by the Rangers in the opener of a doubleheader sweep at Camden Yards, starting an 11-28 finish to the season.
On Sept. 5 last year, the Orioles exercised their 2009 option on Trembley's contract and added another club option for 2010. That night, the Orioles were throttled, 11-1, by the visiting Oakland Athletics, who scored eight runs in the eighth inning on just one hit and benefited from four bases-loaded walks in one of the most embarrassing defeats of 2008. That game spearheaded a 5-17 finish.
Trembley said he has had no discussions with MacPhail about his long-term status. He never asked during the previous two seasons and has no plans to do so in the coming months.
"Nobody owes me anything," Trembley said. "That's disrespectful and unprofessional. I think when you do things like that, you show insecurity, doubt, lack of confidence, lack of faith in yourself and lack of belief. You start worrying about yourself instead of the team and the organization. I've never been that kind of guy, and I'll never be that kind of guy."
The 2009 season, which resumes tonight for the Orioles, has tested Trembley. Last week in Seattle, he let loose in a post-ejection, hat-throwing tirade aimed at plate umpire Tom Hallion. Trembley's outburst continued in a post-game talk with reporters as he questioned several calls that went against the Orioles and defended his team's effort and his dealings with its veterans.
The out-of-character display earned him a two-game suspension from Major League Baseball and led to talk that uncertainty of his long-term status and the heightened fan criticism had gotten to the manager, who has been questioned about his handling of pitchers, his stoic nature in the dugout and the number of fundamental mistakes the team has made under his watch.
Trembley said that's not the case. Taking advice from Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, he has stopped listening to the radio and reading newspapers. He does not visit blogs or message boards, where his job performance is dissected on a daily basis.
"I think we're getting to the point now with our organization where we almost taste it. We can see what's coming and we get a little ahead of ourselves," said Trembley, who maintains that he gets far more fan support than criticism. "I think it's a positive quality that our fans expect us to win, but I also think we all need to be realistic. Andy has been very forthright in saying, 'Hey, we got a ways to go.'
"For us, it's more important to get the right guys in the right slots, to make sure they're getting experience and showing improvement. To put it bluntly, we don't have enough players that are done reaching their potential to, on a day-in and day-out basis, succeed in this division. I take the losses personal, but I think you have to keep things in perspective."
As with every manager or coach of a losing team, there have been clubhouse whispers about Trembley's performance and his demeanor. However, Trembley has gotten consistent public support from his most influential players, something that neither of his predecessors - Lee Mazzilli and Perlozzo - received. The Orioles' handful of late-game comebacks this season also can be taken as proof that the team has not quit on him, and Trembley is - more often than he has gotten credit for - pushing the right buttons.
Second baseman Brian Roberts, who has been through four managers in his seven years with the club, said blaming Trembley for some of the Orioles' fielding and base-running issues is "not right."
"Certainly, I understand taking blame for the way your team plays. My dad was a coach. But a guy goes first to third and gets thrown out, what is the manager supposed to do?" Roberts said. "I've enjoyed Dave a lot. I think he is a great person and he is a very calming influence on this team. I certainly hope that he gets a chance to stay."
First baseman Aubrey Huff said Trembley is a "great fit and presence for this team" and said the notion that he is a transitional manager is "totally unfair." Right fielder Nick Markakis praised the way Trembley supports his players.
But obviously, the opinions about Trembley that matter most belong to MacPhail and owner Peter Angelos. Angelos doesn't comment publicly on the performance of his manager. MacPhail disputed the notion that the Orioles, who are 40-48 and in last place in the American League East, have underachieved. There was no expectation that they would contend this year.
"Dave has done a good job in creating the type of environment we need to have as a franchise to bring along as many talented, young players as we possibly can," MacPhail said. "He cares about the players and their future. He's anxious to put them in position where they have a chance of succeeding. All the tactical stuff, you can debate this or that. But you have to look at the whole picture."
If Orioles manager Dave Trembley is to return next season, the team will probably have to avoid another late-season tailspin, seemingly an annual occurrence for the club. Here's a look at the Orioles' second-half records since 2000:
Year W-L Pct. Manager
2008 22-45 .328 Dave Trembley
2007 31-43 .419 Dave Trembley
2006 29-43 .403 Sam Perlozzo
2005 27-48 .360 Mazzilli/Perlozzo
2004 41-36 .532 Lee Mazzilli
2003 30-41 .423 Mike Hargrove
2002 25-52 .325 Mike Hargrove
2001 23-51 .311 Mike Hargrove
2000 36-40 .474 Mike Hargrove
Dave Trembley's Orioles record compared with those of his recent predecessors:
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Five highs and five lows from first half of season PG 3