When (if?) the Orioles open the 1995 baseball season, there will be a new manager in the dugout.
Johnny Oates was fired Monday by owner Peter Angelos, becoming the third manager to lose his job since the baseball strike began.Oates, who led the Orioles to a 63-49 record this season, failed to produce the results Angelos expected from a lineup bolstered in 1994 by the addition of a half-dozen high-priced free agents.
Angelos openly questioned several of Oates' decisions last year and questioned his ability to lead the team. Rumors of Oates' dismissal began in May, and intensified in early August when the Orioles fell 10 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East.
When the strike began, the Orioles trailed the Cleveland Indians for the wild-card spot. That's when Angelos all but decided that Oates wasn't coming back.
Team sources said Angelos is looking for a high-profile manager who would get the most of one of baseball's highest-paid lineups. The Orioles have been denied permission to talk with Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa, whose contract expires in October, The (Baltimore) Sun reported Sunday.
That story, Angelos said, triggered the move.
"We couldn't let things continue like this. It was not fair to Johnny," Angelos said in a telephone interview. "We would have probably ended up making the same decision, but that newspaper story forced us to act quicker than anticipated."
Sources said Angelos has considered the possibility of pursuing Cincinnati Reds' manager Dave Johnson. Davey Lopes and Rick Dempsey are the top candidates within the Orioles' organization, although they are longshots to land the job.
The announcement of Oates' firing was made by general manager Roland Hemond, on orders from Angelos. Team sources said Hemond will soon be moved to another front-office job and be replaced by Frank Robinson.
On the field, the Orioles will be looking to add a starting pitcher, a middle reliever and perhaps an outfielder. They will be unloading third baseman Chris Sabo and outfielder Mike Devereaux.
"Strike or no strike, you never stop trying to improve your team," Angelos said.
Baltimore was 291-270 (.519) in Oates' nearly four years as manager. Oates, 48, took over for Robinson on May 23, 1991, his first managerial job in the major leagues.
Oates joins Hal McRae of Kansas City and Butch Hobson of Boston as managers who have lost their jobs since the strike began Aug. 11. Two general managers, Tom Grieve of Texas and Dal Maxvill of St. Louis, also have been dismissed.
After Oates took over in 1991, the Orioles finished in last place with a 54-71 record. But they improved to 89-73 in 1992, then went 85-77 to finish in third place in 1993.
Baltimore was expected to be a contender this year after Angelos went out and spent millions on Rafael Palmeiro, Sid Fernandez, Chris Sabo, Lee Smith and Mark Eichhorn. The Orioles ended up spending only four days in first place - none after April 19.
Oates, 48, and Robinson are the only people to play for, coach and manage the Orioles.