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Thomas Boswell

Mazzilli's Introduction as Manager

By Thomas Boswell
Friday, May 28, 2004; Page D01

Over the last week, Lee Mazzilli has become a major league manager.

That distinction doesn't arrive the day you're hired or get that nice office. It doesn't happen in spring training with a meeting and a pep talk. Even on Opening Day, when the crowd at Camden Yards cheers you louder than any player, you still haven't tasted the true job. And when you breeze through the first seven weeks with a winning record -- after six losing Orioles seasons in a row -- you certainly can't call yourself a big league manager yet. All you've done is write lineups, wave to the bullpen and give signs. You haven't really managed.


"You have to stay positive. We must play positive. I have to be positive as well," says Orioles' Lee Mazzilli, enduring first slump as manager. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)


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Because, in the big leagues, the job doesn't even start until you lose. And lose. And lose a few more. Then everybody looks at you for the answer. Skipper, we've lost six in row. If we don't get clubbed 11-0 or 11-3, we lose 3-2 or 12-9. Our kid pitchers can't get 'em out. Our hitters have gone cold. We're under .500. You took Rodrigo Lopez out of the bullpen, where he was nails. But you stuck with Mike DeJean, who just kept getting nailed.

What do we do now, boss?

That's when you become a big league manager. That's where Mazzilli is now. Welcome to the job, Lee.

"You have to stay positive. We must play positive. I have to be positive as well," said Mazzilli after that sixth loss.

How many more "positives" before we start to worry?

Now we'll start to learn, as will he, whether Mazzilli is the leader that wise heads such as Joe Torre and Mike Flanagan think he will become. It's a long process. If he has a fine 15-year career, he should only face about 100 more losing streaks like this one.

None of this, of course, comes as any surprise to Mazzilli, who played 14 seasons in the majors and was a coach for the Yankees for the last four seasons. "The fact that [teams and players] can get so hot or so cold is actually part of the beauty of the game," Mazzilli said this week. "It's so unpredictable. And it can turn so fast."

Coping is the key. Though coping with success, as he has as a Yanks coach the last four years, is far more pleasant.

"I've known Lee since he was a baby. We actually played together in '76 and '77," said Yankees Manager Torre, who was in his last seasons when Mazzilli was in his first with the Mets. "He's played for me, coached for me. He's never been afraid to fail, never been afraid of the heat. That's special. 'Not afraid to fail' is a good philosophy. Stay out of the gray. Be decisive."

Mazzilli will need all that decisiveness and obvious self-confidence because the Orioles, despite the addition of high-priced Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez, are a team that needs a couple of more major free agent signings after this season, plus the emergence of at least two front-line pitchers from their farm system, to be a plausible 90-plus win team.

For now, they're finally entertaining to watch again. But, though Mazzilli sees half-empty glasses as nearly full, the Orioles have plenty of holes, especially in their starting rotation that will seriously limit them all season. "What we have is what you have to use," Mazzilli said, as his young pitchers kept gaining experience the old-fashioned way -- through extensive pain.

Defying tradition and superstition, Mazzilli picked No. 13 for his jersey. Somebody, if he's brave enough, should ask him what number he'd like for his straitjacket, because, if you manage long enough, it'll drive you nuts, guaranteed.


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