Orioles owner Peter Angelos always made sure to allow his managers to finish the season before making a decision on their status. Previous skippers Davey Johnson, Ray Miller and Mike Hargrove were removed after the regular season. Angelos took pride in never dismissing a manager during the season. So his dissatisfaction with manager Lee Mazzilli obviously overcame those sentiments. Mazzilli was removed before the Orioles' game with the Angels on Thursday, ending a tumultuous week and strange 1 1/2-year tenure in which Mazzilli was both lauded for his spurts of success and heavily criticized for his in-game managing, relationships with players and laidback style. Privately, Angelos stewed over the decision to dismiss Mazzilli in the past week and Mazzilli told close friends that he never felt like Angelos liked him. The positive steroid test of Rafael Palmeiro likely bought Mazzilli some time, but when the club dropped 10-1 and 8-4 decisions the previous two nights to extend its losing streak to eight, executive vice president Jim Beattie said it was time for a change.
Bench coach Sam Perlozzo was named interim manager for the rest of the season, opening with a 4-1 win over the Angels on Thursday afternoon. "Well, it's something we thought about in the past couple of days," Beattie said. "At some point, you have to do something to try to change the mix. It's not fair to Mazz, but we have to try to do something. It's a baseball move, but we're not trying to assign blame or anything totally to Mazz. It's one of those decisions that just came up." The Orioles entered Thursday's game 9-28 since June 21 and were sinking quickly. Mazzilli, who led the Orioles to a 78-84 record last season, finished with 129-140 and some fans in Baltimore will wonder whether Mazzilli was the fall guy for a slew of injuries, poor starting pitching and the lack of any major personnel moves before the trading deadline. But it was apparent that Mazzilli had lost many players in the clubhouse, several of whom privately desired a change. When Perlozzo took over for Mazzilli after he was ejected in the first inning of Friday's game with the Chicago White Sox, one player said, "Did you see how smoothly things were when Sammy came in? It was obvious he knows what he's doing, not like [Mazzilli]." Beattie informed the team of the decision before Thursday afternoon's game in Anaheim, and he told the players they share some responsibility for the removal. "I had a very quick message to the players and part of the message was that the coaches, players and organization should bear the responsibility for what happened today," he said. "You can't change the team that dramatically, but you make a change with a coach or the manager." "We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and not point fingers at other people," second baseman Brian Roberts said. Said center fielder Luis Matos: "I know we're playing bad baseball right now, so no one can blame anybody." Perlozzo, 54, who was a candidate for the job when Hargrove was dismissed, had grown close to Mazzilli but wants to relish his 55-game audition.
"It's a bittersweet day for me," he said. "I'm very thankful that Mazz kept me here. We're all a part of him not being here. [Managing is] something that I've wanted to do, and I have two months to do it, and I'll make the best of it. I'm not concerned about how good I'm gonna do; I'm concerned about how the team's gonna do.
"I explained to the ballclub that we need to play better baseball, period."
There had been questions about Mazzilli's job status since the team lost 12 consecutive games in August 2004. The club responded with 19 wins in its final 32 games. Several club insiders said Mazzilli would have to get the team off to a fast start in order to secure his job, and he did. They went 16-7 in April and were in first place in the American League East for two months before finally losing their grip on June 25 with a loss to Atlanta.
Since then, the club has endured a freefall, but it could not be all attributed to Mazzilli. Players such as Sammy Sosa, Javy Lopez, Erik Bedard, Melvin Mora, Larry Bigbie and Matos all missed significant time with injuries. The starting rotation began losing steam and Mazzilli never got production from star-crossed starter Sidney Ponson.
And the GM duo of Beattie and Mike Flanagan did not make any addition to the pitching staff besides Jason Grimsley, who returned earlier than expected from Tommy John surgery.
Still, several players believed the Orioles were good enough to compete in the AL East, but Mazzilli was heavily criticized for his handling of the bullpen, reliance on certain players and his constant shuffling of the lineup.
"People want to put blame on one person, and that's not the case here," Beattie said. "It's more a matter of the typical response you can't change the team that dramatically sometimes, that you make a move with a coach, you make a move with a manager, and hopefully the players respond in a different way."
A coach with the New York Yankees from 2000 to 2003, Mazzilli was considered a darkhorse for the job when he interviewed in October 2003 but apparently wowed Beattie and Flanagan during his interview. Angelos, however, did not meet with Mazzilli face-to-face until Opening Day 2004 and the two did not spend any significant time together until a group dinner in August 2004.
Despite the club's fast start, Mazzilli was never approached about honoring the option on his contract and he became resigned to the fact that he could lose his job.
Lee Mazzilli relieved of duties
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.