The new manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Sam Perlozzo (George Washington University, class of '73), looked comfortable in the soft leather chair behind the large mahogany desk in the manager's office at Camden Yards. If Rafael Palmeiro's return Thursday from his 10-day suspension for testing positive for a steroid brought a chaotic feel to the ballpark and the Orioles' clubhouse, it seemed to have no effect on Palmeiro's manager.
"The chair fit okay?" a visitor asked Perlozzo, whose record as O's manager improved to 5-2 after a three-game sweep of Tampa Bay.
"It fits," replied Perlozzo about the chair and office. He said all the right things about Palmeiro's return to the pack of more than 50 members of the media eager to hear how Perlozzo would deal with managing the most visible violator of baseball's drug policy.
Nineteen years as a major league coach with three teams, including the last 10 with the Orioles, prepared Perlozzo well for this demanding day. If Palmeiro was the focus, Perlozzo was as interested in asking his visitor about the progress of MLB's ownership search in Washington and pointing out one of the bidders for the Nationals, William Collins, was a teammate at GW.
What a contrast between the manager and player. Perlozzo is mostly unknown outside of Baltimore and close followers of the GW Hall of Fame. Palmeiro, with Hall of Fame numbers in his 19-year career, is now a prime subject on the nightly TV news -- the clip of his finger-pointing testimony on Capitol Hill last March will stay with him forever.
"It's a challenge to deal with it," Perlozzo said of Palmeiro's return. "We have goals. Our thing is that when we're inside the clubhouse we are a team together. That's what I addressed the club with. And that's what we're going to do. When you walk out the door you can do whatever you want, but when you're in here you're together as a team."
Palmeiro, meanwhile, jumped right back into the media pool: "Baseball is all I know and I'll take it one day at a time," he said. "It was just good to see the team. They are happy that I am back. And they are anxious for me to get back on the field."
Palmeiro's teammates seemed supportive, with star shortstop Miguel Tejada putting his arm around him before batting practice as shutters clicked. Several members of the opposing Tampa Bay team shook Palmeiro's hand. The bond among players, even when one who has made them all look bad, remains strong. I guess you have to be a ballplayer to understand.
"He's a teammate," said outfielder David Newhan. "You're supportive of your teammates."
And the fans? Some told TV interviewers they would never look at Palmeiro the same. Others were more forgiving, holding up signs of welcome, with Palmeiro signing everything fans thrust at him but a subpoena.
His future? Upcoming road trips that include Texas might be a little rough on Raffy, but nowhere near as raucous as what he'll experience in New York from Sept. 19 to 22. I'd be surprised to see him in a Baltimore uniform next year, and agree with Frank Robinson, who has said players who are proven steroid users should be excluded from Hall of Fame consideration.
Perlozzo's future as a manager? He needs to win a bunch of games to remain in Baltimore. But as someone whose seven career major league hits in two very brief stints in The Show were 3,011 fewer than Palmeiro's -- with 569 fewer home runs (like he hit none), Sam Perlozzo's future in baseball is brighter than Rafael Palmeiro's. "If I can get through this, we can deal with anything," said Perlozzo, adding something few big league ball players understand: "How can you not be appreciative after you've been in the major leagues [as a coach] for 19 years?"
New School, Old School
Have absolutely no sympathy for Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens, banished on Wednesday from training camp for a week by Coach Andy Reid. Owens, who wants the Eagles to rework the seven-year, $48.97 million contract he signed a year ago, has not been communicating with coaches and some teammates. He also blew off an autograph session with fans this week.
What you hear now from some disgruntled players: how they've "outperformed" their contracts. That phrase caught the attention of Washingtonian Red Auerbach, president and former coach of the Boston Celtics and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
"I never believed in renegotiating a player's contract," said Auerbach, whose recovery from colon cancer surgery Aug. 1 at Sibley Hospital included devouring a chicken platter Thursday at Northwest Washington's Dancing Crab (why chicken at the Dancing Crab? Don't ask.).
"I always knew when I signed a player to a contract, three things could happen, two of them bad for me," Auerbach said. "The player could have a bad year, or get hurt, or have a good year that's good for everyone. I didn't believe in incentives, either. I signed Larry Bird for the highest rookie contract [$500,000] in history. His agent wanted another $50,000 if he made the all-rookie team. If I'm paying him $500,000, I expect him to make the all-rookie team, so I tore up that request. Whenever I signed someone, I always said: 'This is your contract. Don't come back to me until it's over.' "
Of course, Auerbach said, if a player "outperformed" his contract, as many Celtics did, they were rewarded in the next contract.
Another Old School basketball guy on the mend is Abe Pollin, owner of the Wizards and MCI Center. Pollin had heart bypass surgery July 7 in Cleveland and his recovery is on schedule, spokesman Matt Williams reports.
* Capitals owner Ted Leonsis makes his case on the club's Web site that his team will be built around young players such as rookie-to-be Alexander Ovechkin, Jeff Halpern, Dainius Zubrus, and veteran goalie Olaf Kolzig. Looking at a payroll of about $25 million, Leonsis hopes his young, fast squad will be appealing. Still, when vets such as Brendan Witt express a desire to be traded to a contender, fans wonder about the direction of the franchise, which needs to do better than a 25-win building season.
* This week's concerns: Freddy Adu's knee, Patrick Ramsey's protection, Ralph Friedgen's Terrapins' offense, horse racing in Maryland, Livan Hernandez's happiness and equipment, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and LaVar.
Have a comment or question? Reach me at Talkback@washpost.com.