Executive Vice President Mike Flanagan terminated Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo on Monday, thus effectively ending a baseball career that has notable only by being hilariously entrenched in ignominious failure. Perlozzo, it seems, brought only two things to the table as O’s manager: Being almost entirely bereft of tactical baseball know-how, and having pitching scion Leo Mazzone be his best friend. In fact, some people with no familiarity with the situation whatsoever claim that Perlozzo was hired solely to recruit the venerable pitching coach that was thought to be the architect of the Atlanta Braves fourteen year NL East dynasty, and was perceived at one time to be the finest assistant coach in all of professional baseball.
Some of you might forget, but there was an out-and-out scrum for Mazzone’s services when he chose not to renew his contract with the Braves. Stat-geeks (and I use it as a term of endearment) wrote formulas on how the coach would help any staff he went to. Sports pundits across the nation offered their opinion on why their hometown nine should splurge on Mazzone. Brian Cashman offered to fellate him, and Theo Epstien actually did. Regardless, Mazzone, in the ultimate “I’m Keith Hernandez” moment, ended up taking the O’s job, and proceeded to accomplish nearly nothing of note, making him equal to almost every pitching coach in the major leagues.
Take a look at the 2006 Orioles pitching performance. This thing is basically the statistical baseball equivalent of a triage unit in a war zone, or every other day in Detroit. From the "sundry guys" listed, I counted one ERA under five, and that’s not counting the rounded-up Kurt Birkins. The 2007 squad looks only marginally better, with general regressions from former pitching prodigies Chris Ray, Daniel Cabrera, Danys Baez. We'll have to wait until the end of the season to know for sure, but the only player who has markedly improved is staff ace Erik Bedard, who is the 2nd coming of Mike Mussina in terms of both performance and future payday with the Yankees.
Now, it is possible that things were so bad in “Balmer” that Mazzone’s presence was the only thing from letting the entire situation turn into total chaos. But that’s the kind of flawed thinking that got generally reasonable people thanking their lucky stars for LeBron James after the NBA finals had the worst TV ratings in their history. Are we supposed to be so naïve to believe that after years of taking the pitching dregs of the world and turning them into effective starters and relievers, Leo-Maz lost the magic touch? Hardly. The fact is, Mazzone had the good fortune of having three 1st ballot Hall of Fame pitchers play for the Braves, and their presence just so happened to coincide directly with his own tenure as pitching coach starting in 1991. The shrewd acquisitions Jon Schuerholz made, and the wise bullpen usage from Bobby Cox resulted in pitchers having an Atlanta resurgence, not some helpful tidbits from a rocking so-called sage. Giving pitching coaches in general that kind of pull is the kind of madness that lets guys like Rick Peterson make outrageous statements like “I can fix Victor Zambrano in an hour.”
Since the only reason the vaunted coach ever came to the O’s at all was because of Perlozzo, Mazzone will probably ask to be released at the end of this year, as this current incarnation of the Orioles is almost undoubtedly his Vietnam. Then the next Brett Favre/Roger Clemens-style attention fest will begin anew, maybe with your own hometown scribe giving the coach a mulligan. It is the O's after all. Just be sure to remember that just because a team has a great rotation, it doesn't mean there was a great pitching coach behind it. As for Leo-- next time watch who your friends are, buddy. You used to have a good reputation.