By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
BALTIMORE, June 18 -- Sam Perlozzo, the seventh manager to serve under Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, was fired Monday morning after a tumultuous six-week stretch marked by questionable decisions and horrific losses. Angelos's eighth manager in 14 years will be Dave Trembley, a bullpen coach turned interim bench coach, now turned interim manager. But it is with the naming of a ninth manager that the Orioles could signal a significant shift in direction.
On the same day the Orioles dismissed Perlozzo a little more than 22 months into his reign -- punctuating a 1-8 homestand that concluded Sunday, and ending weeks of uncomfortable speculation over Perlozzo's job status -- reports also surfaced about a major change within the highest levels of the team's power structure.
As first reported on ESPN.com and confirmed Monday afternoon by a top baseball official, the Orioles have reached an agreement to hire former Chicago Cubs president and chief executive Andy MacPhail as their chief operating officer -- marking the first time Angelos will have had a strong baseball presence at the highest operational level. Angelos did not return telephone messages seeking comment.
The significance of the MacPhail move, which has yet to be confirmed by team officials, could be felt immediately with the new managerial hire. Among the potential candidates with ties to MacPhail -- who ran the Cubs from 1994 to 2006, after spending 10 season as general manager of the Minnesota Twins -- are Joe Girardi, a popular catcher for parts of six seasons in Chicago before managing the Florida Marlins in 2006, and former Cubs manager Dusty Baker.
At a tightly scripted news conference Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- two hours before the team was to depart for a six-game West Coast road trip -- Mike Flanagan, the Orioles' executive vice president for baseball operations, declined to answer questions about the search for Perlozzo's permanent replacement, and also declined to comment about reports regarding MacPhail. Players who were gathering at the stadium for the bus ride to the airport were made off-limits to the media.
Regarding Perlozzo's firing, Flanagan said the decision was made late Sunday night, and that Perlozzo was informed during a 20-minute meeting Monday morning at team offices.
"It was a tough homestand," Flanagan said, "[or] if you want to go back, a tough month. [It included] maybe some of the most horrific losses this club has ever endured. There's been a level of frustration building on our part and by the players. And we felt after this last homestand, it was time to make a change."
Perlozzo, 56, was named interim manager on Aug. 4, 2005, following the firing of Lee Mazzilli, and was given the permanent job shortly after the season. He went 122-164 in the job, including a record of 29-40 this season, which has the Orioles in last place in the American League East and headed toward what would be a 10th consecutive losing season.
"I'm happy they gave me the chance to manage," Perlozzo said in a telephone interview. "I'm sorry I wasn't the guy who could fix it."
Flanagan said the meeting Monday between Perlozzo and front-office officials was "civil" and "honest."
"He said how disappointed he was that he wasn't going to be here to turn it around or see it turn around," Flanagan said. "He talked about he felt he had made the right decisions, but had the wrong reaction at the end."
Many of Perlozzo's decisions, however, had come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks -- particularly those involving a bullpen that was overhauled at a cost of more than $40 million last winter but that has become the flashpoint for frustration this season.
In the most infamous example, in Boston on May 13, Perlozzo pulled starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie after 91 pitches with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game the Orioles led 5-0. The Red Sox subsequently stormed back against the Orioles' bullpen, scoring six runs for a 6-5 win.
Many Orioles players, even those who had been close to Perlozzo when he was an Orioles coach, began turning against him, complaining about playing time or questioning his decisions. One veteran recently noted Perlozzo had given the "take" sign on a 3-1 count to the Orioles' cleanup hitter, an unconventional move that struck the clubhouse as failing to trust the players. As Perlozzo's job status deteriorated, it was telling that few players rushed to his defense when given the opportunity.
Perlozzo and his backers, meanwhile, pointed to an inflexible and underperforming roster, and crippling injuries to the team's pitching staff. Entering Monday, the Orioles ranked next-to-last in the AL in runs scored and slugging percentage, and 11th out of 14 teams in bullpen ERA. Their current eight-game losing streak is their longest in nearly two years.
At times, Perlozzo has taken positions that run counter to the organization's larger vision, such as advocating trading star shortstop Miguel Tejada, which the Orioles considered last summer before ultimately keeping him.
Perlozzo's firing may have long-term ramification for Leo Mazzone, the highly regarded pitching coach and childhood friend of Perlozzo's who joined the Orioles shortly after Perlozzo was given the permanent job. According to Flanagan, Mazzone and all the Orioles coaches have vowed to stay.
"He feels we can turn this around," Flanagan said of Mazzone. "He's disappointed for his friend, but on a professional level he's very excited about the staff."
Trembley, 55, managed in the minor leagues for 20 years before joining Perlozzo's staff this year as bullpen coach -- later filling in as bench coach while Tom Trebelhorn attended to his ailing wife.
The hiring of MacPhail likely would be the more significant move long-term. Theoretically, MacPhail -- heir to a legacy of baseball service that has seen father Lee and grandfather Larry enshrined in the Hall of Fame as executives -- would replace Joseph Foss, who resigned as COO last month. However, while Foss had a finance and banking background, MacPhail is a former GM who would be expected to have greater involvement in the baseball operations, particularly with regards to the upcoming managerial hire.
MacPhail spent eight years of his childhood in Baltimore while his father served as the Orioles' GM, and since leaving the Cubs he has served as an adviser to Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig. MacPhail and Angelos became close during the 2002 and 2006 labor negotiations, when both served on management's negotiating team.
Staff writer Thomas Boswell contributed to this report.