Mired in the longest extended period of futility in club history, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos shook up his organization today, firing the club's manager and bringing in a new high-profile front-office leader.
With declining attendance, the growing presence of the Washington Nationals in his backyard and a club that has not finished with a winning record since 1997, Angelos finally made his move.
Firing Sam Perlozzo, a native Marylander and loyal company man who waited patiently for a managerial chance, was not surprising after the $90 million-plus team began this season 29-40 and plunged into last place, 15 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
But that is not expected to be the only move. A baseball source said Angelos also will be hiring former Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs executive Andy MacPhail as the club's chief operating officer -- and essentially Angelos' right-hand man. The front office, unaware the owner was actively seeking a replacement for Joe Foss, who resigned in May, was surprised by the impending hiring.
Bringing in MacPhail -- whose father, Lee, helped lay the groundwork for the Orioles team that became a dynasty in the late 1960s -- means Foss, a business and finance specialist, is being replaced by a baseball man. He ultimately will have veto power over vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette, whose contracts expire in 2008.
The Orioles wouldn't speak about hiring MacPhail, and he declined to comment today. But a baseball source told The Sun that MacPhail and the club had agreed to a deal in principle and that it probably would be announced Wednesday once minor issues were resolved.
The source said MacPhail probably wouldn't have agreed to come to Baltimore if he didn't feel he would have autonomy to run the club. And Angelos, who has been criticized as meddlesome in the past, trusts MacPhail and so desperately craves a winner that he has given assurances that MacPhail would have significant control of baseball operations, a source close to Angelos said.
Once MacPhail is in place, his initial order of business will be to find a replacement for Perlozzo. One baseball source said the uncontested top choice is Joe Girardi, who won the National League Manager of the Year award last season with the Florida Marlins. The former big league catcher, who won three World Series rings with the New York Yankees, was fired last year after his lone managerial season after a dispute with ownership.
An Orioles contingent -- including Flanagan, MacPhail and team general counsel H. Russell Smouse -- is expected to meet with Girardi, 42, tomorrow morning in Chicago to discuss the job and to perhaps tender an offer. Meanwhile, Orioles bullpen coach Dave Trembley was named interim manager and will lead the team tomorrow night against the San Diego Padres in California.
Girardi, a New York Yankees television commentator, played for the Chicago Cubs for three seasons while MacPhail ran the organization. One baseball source said the two weren't exceptionally close but had mutual respect and "a good relationship."
Others mentioned as potential candidates include Davey Johnson, who led the Orioles when they last had a winning season, in 1997. He resigned with a year remaining on his contract amid a dispute with Angelos. Another possibility is Dusty Baker, who was hired as Cubs manager while MacPhail was club president. Both Baker and MacPhail, who joined the Cubs as top executive in 1994 after winning two World Series rings as Minnesota Twins general manager, left the Chicago club at the end of last season.
During a news conference at the warehouse this afternoon, Flanagan deflected questions about MacPhail and instead focused on Perlozzo's firing and his belief the Orioles could turn around their losing ways.
"It really wasn't one event, one game that reflected this decision," said Flanagan, who has been among the club's top decision makers for five seasons. "I think we felt it was slipping away from us, that we're a better club than we've played and that we can still be a better club. It's been an awful tough time of maybe four or five weeks."
The impetus for the restructuring is financial and performance-based. The Orioles, who had never experienced more than three consecutive losing seasons in their first 45 years, are staring at their 10th straight sub-.500 campaign.
The club is in an eight-game losing streak, which included consecutive sweeps at home by the Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Consequently, Camden Yards attendance continues to dip since hosting a record 3.7 million fans in 1997 -- and it's on pace to drop below 2 million for the first time in the stadium's 15-year history.
The past decade has been disastrous for Angelos and the Orioles, who have had six managers since 1997 (including Trembley). Only the Toronto Blue Jays -- who have had seven, including interim managers -- have had more turnover.
Angelos has now employed eight managers since he became owner in 1993. Perlozzo, who was signed through 2008, is the second consecutive manager to be let go before his contract expired. He replaced Lee Mazzilli, who was fired in August 2005 with two months left on his contract.
Angelos declined to comment, but sources close to him said the owner agonized over today's move. He felt he couldn't ignore the club's record, lackluster play and the growing sentiment that Perlozzo's players no longer had faith in him, the sources said.
But Angelos is genuinely fond of Perlozzo, who grew up in Cumberland and has been with the club for 12 years. Perlozzo was Angelos' original choice for manager after the 2003 season, when the front office instead settled on Mazzilli.
Perlozzo didn't return calls for comment but issued a statement that he was disappointed in the decision but wished the club and its players luck.
"I don't know what the future holds for me with regard to my career," said Perlozzo, who finished with a 122-164 record as manager. "But I certainly hope to stay in the game that I have been a part of for so long."
Flanagan said the club would like Perlozzo to remain in the organization but no position has been offered, and Perlozzo hasn't indicated that he would take one.
Pitching coach Leo Mazzone, Perlozzo's longtime friend whom he lured from the Atlanta Braves to the Orioles in 2006, is expected to remain with the team, according to Flanagan and Duquette.
Mazzone could not be reached today for comment.
Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.