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One man to blame

O's fire Perlozzo, but Angelos responsible for demise

Posted: Monday June 18, 2007 11:49PM; Updated: Monday June 18, 2007 11:49PM
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People around baseball, and especially those around Baltimore, used to talk in near reverence of something called the "Oriole Way." In a loose kind of definition, the Oriole Way was a blueprint for winning, proven in the team's amazing run through the 1960s, '70s and stretching into the early '80s.

It was, as franchise icon Cal Ripken Jr. said back in 2003, "about people." And, he added, about continuity. And stability.

Monday, the Orioles fired their manager, Sam Perlozzo, making him the fifth manager in the last decade to be tossed aside by the Orioles and the 11th to leave since the team last won a World Series, way back in 1983. Stable, this is not. This, in fact, is about as far away from the Oriole Way the Orioles can get.

Perlozzo's firing was one that everybody in baseball, and many outside of it, saw coming from miles away. The Orioles have been awful this year, continuing a string of awfulness that reaches back far before Perlozzo was appointed manager in August 2005. They are in last place in the American League East. They've lost eight in a row. Somebody, according to accepted baseball thought, has to pay for that. And so Perlozzo goes.

More than answering questions or solving problems or assigning blame, though, the firing of Perlozzo simply points out the shortcomings of these modern-day Orioles. A farm system in shambles. A big-league team that perennially underperforms. A fractured and ineffective front office. In short, a dysfunctional organization that founders from top to bottom.

Perlozzo loses a job here, but let's not misplace the blame: As much as the Yankees are George Steinbrenner's team, as much as the Angels are Arte Moreno's, this team and its many faults belong to the morose and meddling principal owner and managing partner, Peter Angelos. The buck, and the fault for the Orioles being in the state that they are, has to stop with Angelos. And it has to stay there.

Man, things have turned brutally ugly in Baltimore over the years, haven't they? The O's haven't been on the right side of .500 since 1997, when Davey Johnson pulled them through a 98-win season, was named the AL Manager of the Year and then, after a clash with Angelos and the front office, was forced into a resignation. They haven't finished above third in the hyper-competitive AL East since then, either. Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Lee Mazzilli, Perlozzo ... none could pull the O's out of their misery.

The constant in that time, of course, has been Angelos, a longtime Baltimorean who made his fortune as an attorney specializing in personal injury law. He bought the team out of bankruptcy in 1993, for $173 million, and has held the team under his unyielding thumb ever since.

Angelos, to his credit, can never be characterized as a tightwad owner. Money has never been a problem with the Orioles. This year's team has a payroll exceeding $93 million, 10th in baseball, up some $18 million from last season. Since '93, the Orioles have had a payroll in the bottom half of the league only twice. Back in '98, they had the highest payroll in baseball at more than $70 million, outspending even the Yankees. A couple of years ago, Angelos OK'd a deal that paid esteemed pitching coach Leo Mazzone $500,000 a year -- more than doubling what he was paid with the Braves.

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