Frustrated by the underperformance of their young pitching staff, which ranks as the worst in the American League, the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday fired pitching coach Mark Wiley and brought Ray Miller out of retirement for a third tour of duty with the team.
Wiley, 56, was informed of the move early Saturday afternoon in a meeting with Orioles co-general managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan. He was offered a scouting position within the organization, but said he has not yet decided whether to take it.
"We're not blaming anybody," Beattie said. "We want to see some improvement in the second half, and hopefully this is one way to do it. This is not placing blame, but you need to be able to bring someone in to address the situation."
Miller, 59, was in uniform for Saturday's game against the Atlanta Braves. He previously served as Orioles pitching coach from 1978 to '85 and again in 1997 before replacing Davey Johnson as manager in 1998. Miller was fired as manager following the 1999 season and was out of baseball for the last 4 1/2 years, despite receiving, by his count, 11 or 12 previous job offers from other teams.
"I was offered some really nice things," Miller said, "and I didn't feel allegiance to [the teams]. Here, I feel allegiance."
According to team sources, the decision to fire Wiley was a mutual one that ran from the top of the organization -- owner Peter Angelos -- down to Beattie, Flanagan and first-year manager Lee Mazzilli, who had grown increasingly frustrated by the pitching staff's high walk totals and general inconsistency.
Despite a four-hit shutout by rookie Daniel Cabrera on Friday night, the Orioles were last in the league with a 5.34 ERA entering Saturday's play, and their 323 walks were 39 more than any other staff in the league.
Speaking to the media early Saturday afternoon, Mazzilli said: "You guys have been aware of it. You watched the games. You saw what was going on. . . . This is the first time I've had to do this [as a big league manager], and it's not easy. You had a good guy and a good, quality person in Mark. But ultimately, I have to run a club and I have to do what I think is going to be the right thing right now."
Mazzilli met with Beattie and Flanagan frequently over the last few weeks about the state of the Orioles' pitching, and Flanagan -- who pitched under Miller for eight seasons with the Orioles, winning the 1979 Cy Young Award -- first called Miller about 10 days ago. Their conversations began as casual talks about developing young pitchers.
Said Miller: "I see good arms. I know what they can do. The idea is to get them to relax and pitch. . . . We'll just go back to the good old Oriole program and go out there and pitch [and] see if we can reduce the walks."
Miller's familiarity with Sidney Ponson, the Orioles' number one starter, was part of his allure. Ponson, 27, has confounded the team with a 3-10 record and 6.22 ERA, just months after signing a three-year $22.5 million contract to return to Baltimore. Ponson was a second-year major leaguer during Miller's final year as manager.
"It's good that they've had that relationship before," Mazzilli said. "I look at that as a positive."
Reached on his cell phone late Saturday afternoon, Wiley said he understood the motivation behind his firing.
"I don't think [the problem] is one person," he said. "But I know what they're doing. They're trying to do something to make a change. I hope it works for them. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I think I'm pretty good at what I do. I wish the circumstances had been better. But I hope the kids keep doing well. I hope Sidney [Ponson] bounces back. And I hope they continue to go forward."