It's a quiet morning in the Baltimore Orioles' spring training clubhouse in Fort Lauderdale, until the team's new marquee player bursts in like a South Florida rainstorm, dressed in a shiny silk shirt and a pair of sleek shades and yapping into his cellphone. Minutes after Miguel Tejada plops into his chair, his corner locker—on stately veterans' row, next to those of Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff—becomes the gravitational center of the room. One by one, half-naked, cereal-chomping teammates pull up chairs until a half dozen of them are seated in a semicircle around their new shortstop. "He'll sit there and tell stories about everything—growing up in the Dominican, playing in Oakland," says righthander Rodrigo Lopez. "He likes to talk, and we like listening to him."
"I like attention," Tejada says with a grin. That's a good thing, because he'll get plenty of it as the Orioles attempt to snap a streak of six losing seasons, the longest in the franchise's 50-year history. After being beaten in 91 games last year, the once-proud team has undergone baseball's version of an extreme makeover, highlighted by the Dec. 14 signing of the 27-year-old free agent Tejada, the 2002 American League MVP, to a six-year, $72 million deal, the largest in Orioles history. Baltimore also has a new manager, former New York Yankees first base coach Lee Mazzilli; a beefed-up middle third of the lineup, with the signings of two other free agents, catcher Javy Lopez and first baseman Palmeiro; and an improved rotation, with the return of righthander Sidney Ponson. All these players were acquired during a monthlong, $121 million shopping spree.
Lopez, Palmeiro and Tejada join rightfielder Jay Gibbons to give the Orioles a quartet of players who each had at least 20 homers and 100 RBIs last year. The only other team with that kind of power is the Yankees. And that brings us to the Orioles' problem: In any other division their moves would've been big news, but in the American League East they were buried under the headlines made by the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, whose acquisitions included Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown and Alex Rodriguez. "That offense is darned good," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein says of Baltimore's new lineup. "I'm not saying they're not going to compete [in the AL East], but if you put them in the Central, they'd be legit contenders, for sure."
For all the new talent, however, the Orioles' most significant moves of late were the December 2002 appointments of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan as co-vice presidents and chiefs of baseball operations. Beattie is a former pitcher and Montreal Expos G.M., and Flanagan is a former Baltimore pitcher, pitching coach, broadcaster and adviser to management who has a close relationship with majority owner Peter Angelos.
Since the beginning of their tenure in the Orioles' front office—long ridiculed as Baltimore's most dysfunctional family—Beattie and Flanagan have run a smooth operation, coexisting peacefully with Angelos. During his 10 years as owner Angelos has run through five managers and six G.M.'s and has been harshly criticized for his intrusive management style. But according to team insiders Angelos has loosened his tight grip on baseball-related decisions since hiring Beattie and Flanagan. "There's no doubt that Peter has stepped back," says an Orioles official. "It used to be Peter and a roomful of his own [advisers] calling the shots, but that's changed."
Angelos, a 74-year-old Baltimore trial lawyer, maintains a high profile—in January he was named by Bud Selig to the commissioner's eight-person executive council—but he insists that he always "left the baseball decisions to others" and that his management style these days is no different from that of years past. "Jim and Mike make an excellent combination," Angelos says. "I trust their judgment completely. I'm not there with a book and stats, saying, 'Let's go after player A or player B.' I'm here listening."
Four years ago, when Angelos fired G.M. Frank Wren (now assistant G.M. of the Braves), Wren accused the owner and his sons, Lou and John, of meddling too much in baseball affairs. That winter Lou and John made up two fifths of the committee that advised their father in the ill-fated hiring of manager Mike Hargrove. Today, however, the two sons have little if any influence on the team's baseball policy: Lou works exclusively in his father's Baltimore law office, and John, though he keeps the title of team executive vice president, is rarely seen at the Camden Yards offices.
Last fall, after Hargrove was fired, Peter Angelos left the search for a new manager in the hands of a six-member team headed by Beattie and Flanagan, who quickly put their stamp on the franchise by selecting Mazzilli, a man with a blank managerial r�sum� and no ties to Baltimore. The 48-year-old Mazzilli grew up in Brooklyn, played centerfield for the Mets and, for the last four seasons, worked for Yankees manager Joe Torre. He brings a no-nonsense New York sensibility to Baltimore. Spring practices are a full hour shorter than they were under Hargrove—"short," according to Mazzilli, but "intense"—and the players cannot grow facial hair or bring golf clubs on team flights.
"If there was one knock on [ Hargrove], it was that he was too easy on the guys," says a team source. "There were no consequences with [him], whether it was wearing jewelry or showing up late to scrimmages. Maz has a tough attitude that may be exactly what this team needs."
Beattie and Flanagan arrived at a time when huge contracts granted by the quick-fix Orioles of the late '90s were finally coming off the books. This winter, relieved of financial obligations to former designated hitter Albert Belle, righthander Scott Erickson and third baseman Tony Batista, the team was $28 million richer. Despite the Orioles' off-season expenditures, their projected Opening Day payroll is around $55 million, roughly $15 million less than last year's.