By Tom Morris
While the rest of the world starts stocking up on beers and popcorn for an exciting week-long showing of a double-feature known as ALCS - NLCS, back in my home-state of Maryland Peter Angelos continued to show his face at the decision-making table. First, in an expected move, he and Jim Beattie "agreed" that the co-GM should no longer continue his duties in the Orioles organization, while longtime Oriole Mike Flanagan was given sole possession of the title. And today, almost as expected, Angelos dropped the 'interim' tag from Sam Perlozzo's name / neck, deciding to keep him as the Baltimore skipper for the near future.
Perlozzo took over as temporary manager of the birds after the firing in August of Lee Mazzilli, a man who beat Perlozzo out for the job at the beginning of the 2004 season. This is Perlozzo's first official tour of duty as skipper, having missed out on opportunities both for the O's as well as for the Seattle Mariners.
A native Marylander, Perlozzo, 54, has been looking forward to this chance since 1982, when he first began coaching duties. He followed a nine-year career as a player with five years as manager for the New York Mets' minor league affiliate, Little Falls, before assuming job of bench coach for the mets themselves. Perlozzo returned to Baltimore when he was hired as third-base coach under Davey Johnson, then was promoted to bench coach to work side-by-side with now-Mariners manager Mike Hargrove.
The Orioles went 23 - 32 following Perlozzo's taking of the reins, and the fact is they could have done a lot worse. The Orioles had already been going downhill for a long while before he replaced Lee Mazzilli, and were additionally then slogging through dramas involving Rafael Palmeiro, Sidney Ponson, and a struggling Sammy Sosa. These are now all considered huge offseasion personnel failures for Baltimore, who must now see if Mike Flanagan can make smart acquisitions to fill these and other now-vacant spots in the roster. Flanagan now does not have to share his responsibilities of GM with Beattie, an ambiguous tandem that confused many, including prospective players and agents, who said the two were notoriously vague and indecisive in trade talks.
But none of this should be Perlozzo's problem. His job is to govern his team on the field and he knows it. He is respected, capable, knowledgeable about the game, a straight shooter, and deeply cared for by his players, who repeatedly asserted they needed to win as many games down the stretch --just to keep Perlozzo around for next season. Well, looks like they won just enough. Perlozzo has gotten his wish now. And he has earned it. But owners are fickle in this business world, so let's hope this wish --come July of next year-- doesn't just flicker away like a candle in the wind.
By Tom Morris
It did not appear that much worse could happen to the Baltimore Orioles. But then again, that kind of optimism is foolish; anyone who knows sports knows these dramas come in bunches, and nobody, no team, is immune from them.
Last night --or very early this Thursday morning in Maryland-- Sidney Ponson was pulled over, arrested, then charged with Driving Under The Influence, his second of 2005, and just the latest of what is now a series of ongoing legal blunders by the starting pitcher.
According to AP news sources, Maryland Transportation Authority police arrested the Orioles pitcher at 1:31 am EST, on southbound Interstate-95, just south of Baltimore, said Cpl. Pamela Thorne, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Spokesman John Ryan reported that Ponson, driving a 2005 Mercedes-Benz, was stopped for tailgating, given a field sobriety test, then immediately charged with the offense, his second of 2005. In January, in Broward County, Fla., police charged Ponson with drunken driving, a case still yet to be resolved.
The Orioles did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, also did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The Baltimore Orioles organization had high hopes for Ponson, signing him to a 3-year, $22.5 million contract before the beginning of the 2004 season, after the Aruban native had posted a strong record on the mound. But it has been all downhill since then. It began with weight problems, and a less than average first half of the season last year which was somewhat revived by a strong post-All Star game showing.
This offseason, however, proved only to be a stomping ground of stupidity for Ponson. He spent eleven days in an Aruban jail for a Christmas day fight at a beach. Then came the Florida DUI arrest. And now this...
And for what it was worth, Ponson made efforts of reconciliation regarding the altercation in Aruba, apologizing to the others involved, reaching a settlement that involved community service and charitable donations.
Points were given to the former Opening Day starter for doing so, and to be sure, we all would have given him even more rope had he performed even remotely up to his professional expectations. But following his strong second-half numbers of last year, this season has been nothing short of an absolute bust on the mound.
He is now on the disabled list with a strained calf, an injury coming on the heels (so to speak) of a 7 - 11 record, a 6.21 ERA, and not one victory since June 18. He has rarely shown what he is capable of, is more than hittable, and has been a headache for the coaching staff and the Baltimore Orioles front office, the latter of whom were becoming increasingly aware of the financial error of judgment the pitcher appeared to be.
I caution anyone from coming anywhere close to apologizing for the man, but I will say this: it seems as if alcohol has played a part in most, if not all, of these legal screw-ups, and speaking as one who has a distant past that includes two DUI's, I see that as absolutely no surprise. The number of crimes in this country, in automobiles and homes as examples, where booze is involved, is staggering, and sadly par for the course for those with problems controlling their drinking. That should be one of the first thing Ponson takes care of for himself and his future.
But don't get me wrong: Sidney Ponson needs to be shipped out somewhere --anywhere but here, as they say. It doesn't matter where, it only matters how soon they do it. Peter Angelos should eat the rest of this overweight check, and send the overweight blustering migraine of a player packing right now. This is more than an issue of money, or even of player personnel.
We all have had to watch on these past several weeks as the Baltimore Orioles, a venerable franchise of such rich history and traditions, have had their asses dragged through the Rafael Palmeiro-steroids-issue mud ---the last thing needed by an organization already desperate to reclaim a fan base dismayed by six consecutive losing seasons.
Sidney Ponson is the last thing we all need to have happen to the ballclub, or to this head-shaking town. And that's just what he has been doing for over $7 million a year: happening. This is not a new perspective, but it need to be said. They need to send Ponson on his way, one-way ticket, so his mishaps can happen somwhere else.
By Tom Morris
It may not be the easiest job to walk into: interim manager for a Major League Baseball team. Its title alone says, "Don't unpack your bags just yet", not even remotely a secure future for any man in a career already defined as less than certain. But according to sources cited by The Baltimore Sun today, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos is pleased with the job done so far by Orioles interim skipper Sam Perlozzo, and is additionally leaning toward keeping him on in a full-time basis for the 2006 season.
Perlozzo --who apparently was a favorite choice of Angelos' for the job that eventually went to Lee Mazzilli before the start of last season-- has guided the Orioles to a 9 - 7 record since the firing of Mazzilli. Despite losing their last three in a sweep in Cleveland, it is a vast improvement over the 2 - 16 crash-dive Baltimore had gone through directly before Perlozzo stepped in as replacement, and it does not hurt that he has supporters in both the front office as well as the team clubhouse.
Some cite the man's upbeat, engaging demeanor as a cause for the marked turnaround on the team:
"We're relaxed with him," catcher Javy Lopez said. "He knows how to lift the team up. Because he wasn't the skipper before, he couldn't do anything about it. Now that he's the skip, he has all the opportunities to bring everything he knows to our team. He brings motivation, which we need."
Others were more political:
"I think everybody here is happy for him," said outfielder B.J. Surhoff. "It's unfortunate circumstances, but that's the nature of the business. You only get a job here if a guy retires or is fired."
Regardless of the quotes, and despite most of the players having good things to say about Lee Mazzilli, there is widespread respect and approval of Perlozzo, a Baltimore native who has spent ten years as a member of the Orioles coaching staff. There are some close to the ballclub who apparently say the fact that Mazzilli was from --of all places-- the New York Yankees before arriving did not bode well for the man and his ability to keep his job through his team's poor play.
For what it is worth, Perlozzo himself is enjoying the new responsibilities, despite having to right a capsizing ship that had lost both the AL East lead as well as a shot at the playoffs, was finding rare victories, and had most recently been tarnished by the crippling Rafael Palmeiro steroids controversy. It is said Perlozzo has an energizing approach to his players, chatting with them loosely, staying involved in their work and their lives. And it does not hurt that he and his wife Beth are a constant presence in charitable works within the Baltimore community as a whole, taking a large part, for instance, in helping and promoting the annual local food drive.
Perlozzo feels he has adjusted to his new responsibilities as manager, a major step up from the backseat role on the coaching staff:
"My pre-game preparation is beginning to become more of a routine," he said. "It's a lot more time-consuming than being a coach, but that's to be expected. We're just jumping into this thing. When you play teams the second time around, you're a little more familiar with what you want to do. It's been good."
These are all positive signs for the new manager of a ballclub still very insistent on salvaging something from this fairly disappointing season. And an alleged endorsement from the team's owner is said to have some kind of influence too, so I hear. But glowing reports notwithstanding, the attitude toward both the team and he who manages it is best summed up by the Orioles' ability to consistently win games, something that looked to have returned folowing several losing seasons. The ever-true practical philosophy was summed up nicely by Brian Roberts:
"We all know Sammy, and we all know he's a very positive guy," the second baseman said. "Maz was positive, too. But I've always said a manager can only do so much. It's our job to get it done on the field."
Indeed. People can talk all they want about the intangible --and often irreplaceable-- quality of being a manager able to foster positivity and support within his clubhouse. Yet anyone in baseball, or even casually observing the sport, must know that a bottom line exists. It may not make itself known quite as fast as it does in the historically fickle New York Yankees organization, but it looms nonetheless. And Sam Perlozzo has to continue to do what he can to keep this team at a respectable level of play for this next five weeks or so. If he does, and however he does it, there is no reason to believe he will not be back at the helm when the Baltimore Orioles start out in the Grapefruit League next year.
A Baltimore Orioles clubhouse, which for weeks had been trying its hardest to keep its heads from hanging down, had nowhere to look but up yesterday after completing the unlikeliest sweep of AL wild-card leader Oakland.
With first baseman Rafael Palmeiro serving his tenth and final day of a MLB suspension for steroid use, the rest of the Baltimore Orioles went about their business of trying to resurrect their own season against Tampa Bay last night. And it payed off.
A.J. Pierzynski connected for a three-run homer in the eighth inning today at Oriole Park at Camden Yards; Jermaine Dye followed with his 21st home run in the four-run frame. Pierzynski's home run proved later to be the game-winner as the Chicago White Sox came from behind to stun the bewildered Baltimore Orioles 9 - 6, handing the home team its 12th loss in 14 games.
For the Orioles, talk was of Ponson, of course, later diagnosed with a contusion on the thumb of his right hand. He was visibly pained by the impact of the ground ball, which he tried to bare hand as it approached him at the mound. His hand dripped blood as he took himself off the field. The irony of course was that Sir Sidney himself looked to be putting out one of his rare strong outings.
The Orioles tied their season-high six game losing streak falling to the Texas Rangers, 4-2, last night at Camden Yards. In five innings pitcher Daniel Cabrera gave up three hits and five runs. He was also good for seven walks, a career high.
Reports surfaced shortly before the game started that Ponson, who is 0 - 5 in his last six starts, had been traded to the San Diego Padres for 1B/OF Phil Nevin. Nothing can be made official, however, unless Nevin waives the no-trade clause worked into his contract. It is believed that the Orioles are one of eight teams to whom he can refuse a trade.