Orioles are looking for experience in managerial search
The Baltimore Orioles fired Dave Trembley as manager in early June
Ex-managers Bobby Valentine and Buck Showalter are among the candidates
The Brewers and Blue Jays could also have managerial openings by 2011
In contrast to their roster of mostly underachieving kids, the Orioles have assembled a list of experienced, accomplished managers as prime candidates to replace the recently fired Dave Trembley for what might be the hardest job in sports, what one baseball executive called a "hell". Internally, even Davey Johnson has been mentioned along with other fellow ex-managers Bobby Valentine, Buck Showalter, Bob Melvin and Eric Wedge.
Johnson, who took the Orioles to the playoffs in 1996 and '97 but hasn't managed in the majors since 2000, is surely the most intriguing new name of the group. But Melvin, who managed the Diamondbacks, Showalter (Yankees, D-backs and Rangers), and Wedge (Indians) are all more likely to accept an offer. Melvin is said to have a positive connection to Orioles owner Peter Angelos from Melvin's playing days in Baltimore from 1989-91. Johnson and the more sought-after Valentine, who managed the Rangers and Mets before going on to a successful stint in Japan, would seem to be long shots to join the Orioles.
Speaking candidly about the last-place Orioles' current struggles and their recent history that includes zero winning seasons in the past 12 years, club president Andy MacPhail said by phone, "Let's be honest, I'm not sure this gig's for everyone. We may have more interest in some guys than they have in us.''
It's clear that the Orioles favor big-time experience after going with rookies in their last three choices as manager -- Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo and Trembley, all of whom failed to return the Orioles to their glory years. (In fairness, they all faced extremely difficult odds, with Mazzilli having by far the most good moments). "We have made no secret, given the composition of our roster, that experience is something we put a premium on,'' MacPhail said, while also suggesting they will at least interview a few less experienced men and that interim manager Juan Samuel is genuinely auditioning (though it can't be too comforting to him to see the interviewees line up).
Some have heard the Orioles may move quickly on this, but while MacPhail has already set up interviews with several viable candidates, he said there's no timetable and he hasn't even started with all the candidates currently connected to teams (that would include Melvin, a Mets scout who appeared to be Jerry Manuel's likely successor until the Mets' recent turnaround). MacPhail is also realistic enough to understand they may not get their first choice, or even their second or third. The AL East is a bear, the team hasn't had a winning season since 1997, Angelos has a reputation for being overbearing and the presence of Angelos' son John is also said to be viewed as a negative by some. And while they possess promising young players like center fielder Adam Jones, catcher Matt Wieters and pitcher Brian Matusz, they are already 30 games under .500.
As for the names who have leaked so far, Valentine has been pursued to one degree or another for nearly every managerial opening the past few years, and his seemingly lukewarm stance toward the Indians job last winter leaves the impression he may wait for something closer to his optimum. With uncertainty surrounding potentially more desirable jobs such as the Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Brewers, it's hard to imagine Valentine jumping at the Orioles opportunity. One competing exec said he thought the free-wheeling Valentine and the buttoned-down MacPhail would make an unlikely pairing. And yet another competing GM said, "I can't imagine Valentine and Angelos working together. Bobby would be perfect for the Cubs job if they decide to make a change. He could be the manager and Ryne Sandberg the bench coach.''
Johnson's name is perhaps the most interesting to be bandied around the Orioles' backrooms. Angelos has mostly fond recollections of his days with Johnson and is said to be feeling pangs of remorse over losing him 13 years ago in a silly contract squabble. But people familiar with the situation say that while Johnson feels an intense connection with the Orioles and Baltimore, he's at a stage in his life where he's unlikely to jump at the job. Beyond that, Angelos' underlings don't appear as anxious to turn the clock back now, anyway. One person familiar with the Orioles' thinking about him said, "It's not 1997 anymore."
Johnson appeared to have a real shot at an interview three years ago with then-Orioles honchos Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette before MacPhail took over their baseball operations. By phone, Johnson remembered getting a call in 2007 but "nothing coming from it.'' Johnson diplomatically didn't wish to discuss this new situation, saying, "I'm working with the Nationals. I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on other jobs. Having said that, my kids were born there, I played there. I managed there. I watch them. I root for them. I hate to see things going the way they're going -- 30 games under before the All-Star break. It's a great baseball town ... My heart goes out to them.''
The 67-year-old Johnson, who played for the Orioles from 1965-1972, has extremely strong ties to the city (even stronger than in New York, where Johnson managed the Mets to the 1986 world championship). He is said by friends to be enjoying his advisory role with the Nationals, his managerial duties for USA baseball and his nice family set-up in Orlando, and would only consider a managerial job under the most perfect of circumstances.
Johnson isn't the only big name from a bygone era that's been thrown out there. MacPhail is a former exec with the Twins and Cubs, so it's no surprise that former Minnesota manager Tom Kelly's name will always come up when MacPhail is involved. He tried without success to get Kelly to come to the Cubs several years ago, so it's virtually impossible to believe Kelly would take on a much more trying job many years later. MacPhail did say, "I love Tom Kelly.'' And why wouldn't he? He's a terrific manager who won two World Series titles for him in Minnesota. But someone else close to Kelly, who turns 60 in August, said managing just isn't in his future plans: "That ship has sailed.''
While the much younger Showalter (who is 54), Melvin (48) and Wedge (42), are accomplished in their own right, they may not be as picky. And actually, Showalter would appear to be a decent fit. He has the rep for being very proficient with start-up situations as the manager of the expansion D-backs and was able to navigate George Steinbrenner in his heyday (for a few years, anyway). "He got the Yankees going, and he got Arizona going,'' one baseball executive pointed out. "He's known as a control freak. But maybe they need some control over there.'' Wedge took the Indians to the ALCS just three years ago, the same year Melvin guided the D-backs to the NLCS.