Sometime Monday morning, Baltimore Orioles Manager Ray Miller expects to get a phone call. On the other line will be majority owner Peter Angelos. Miller has a pretty good idea what Angelos will say. In all likelihood, Miller will hang up the phone at the end of their conversation, and his tenure as the Orioles' manager will be over.
If that is indeed the case, Miller said today, he won't seek another job in baseball. "This is where I wanted to be. This is where I'd like to stay," Miller, 54, said. "If that doesn't work out, I'll go do some normal things. I've been doing this since 1963. That's a long time."
Miller spoke before the Orioles' 8-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox tonight. Damon Buford hit a grand slam for the Red Sox, and Ramon Martinez pitched six innings of two-hit ball.
It was the penultimate game of the season, and probably the penultimate game of Miller's career. The Orioles (78-81) are not expected to exercise the option on Miller's contract for 2000, although his conversations with Angelos have never made that explicit.
Miller said he has spoken to Angelos "quite a bit" this week. "It's been amicable," he said. "We've talked about a lot of things."
However, in Miller's choice of words, in his tone and in his defense of himself -- it was clear that he expects to take the fall for the Orioles' disappointing season.
In an interview before tonight's game, Miller admitted that two seasons' worth of media criticism at times "tore my heart out"; insisted he had no problems with his players, other than a heated exchange with Albert Belle in June; and blamed a lack of quality players, particularly in last year's starting rotation and this year's bullpen, for the team's struggles.
"We had three starters go down [in 1998], and this year, we knew our bullpen was questionable coming in. . . . We haven't had a fifth starter since the start of 1997," Miller said. "Those aren't excuses; they're just facts."
Miller lobbied to carry 12 pitchers coming out of spring training, but was overruled by an organizational decision to keep rookie infielder Willis Otanez instead, because he was out of options and would be lost if they didn't keep him.
"I felt pretty good about our starters. I didn't feel good at all about our bullpen," Miller said. ". . . We had four guys 35 years old without good records coming off losing ballclubs. You can't realistically sit there and say, `Whew, I hope a couple of these guys come through.' "
While some of Miller's players have criticized him privately, Miller denied reports that he has had run-ins with any of them, outside of the much-publicized feud with Belle in the dugout in Florida on June 9
"I've never had one iota of problems with anyone except that one situation with Albert, and that resulted more from frustration," Miller said. "But that happens on every ballclub. I've never had anyone [complaining] because they're not in the lineup or because they want to play more.
"Guys shake my hand and say, `Nice job.' I try to do the best I can to talk to a guy when he's struggling, and I try to do the best I can when a guy's going good to leave him alone."
Miller said there were only six games this season in which he questioned his own managerial decisions to the point of losing sleep. "And in three of those six, I probably did the right thing [by the book], but my gut said it's not going to work, and it didn't," he said.
Orioles Note: Right-hander Sidney Ponson was scratched from Sunday's start because of stiffness in his right shoulder. With Jason Johnson and Scott Erickson injured, the Orioles had not come up with a replacement for Ponson tonight. "I'm just going to roll the ball through the clubhouse and see who picks it up," Miller said.