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American League : The Firing of Altobelli Was a Sound, but Not Classy, Move by Orioles

Edward Bennett Williams, the noted attorney and owner of the Baltimore Orioles, reportedly wanted to fire Manager Joe Altobelli on three occasions over the last year but was talked out of it by the patient, organization-oriented Hank Peters, the team’s general manager.

Closing arguments are Williams’ specialty, however, and Peters has admitted that he was finally convinced that Altobelli lacked toughness and was too slow in making changes--both in personnel and strategy.

“Joe tried to treat all of the players the same, and you can’t do that,” one source said Peters told him.

All of this comes just two years after Altobelli replaced the now rehired Earl Weaver and led the Orioles to the World Series championship in 1983. It was called a summer of Oriole magic.

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Was Altobelli using a different wand then? Was it all an illusion?

Of course not.

On the surface, this is basically another managerial firing that doesn’t make much sense.

On the other hand, say what you will about Williams taking on the appearance of George Steinbrenner, there is a good deal of logic to it.

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The Orioles had fallen into an 11-17 rut after an 18-9 start. The Toronto Blue Jays were threatening a blowout in a year that began with Williams scuttling the Orioles’ emphasis on home-grown players in favor of committing $12 million for free agents Fred Lynn, Lee Lacy and Don Aase. Media and fan criticism of the manager had become the primary clubhouse topic, clouding concentration and threatening to create a degree of dissension.

Most significantly, however, Williams could scan the horizon and see that Weaver was available, ready and willing to return, his credentials rivaled only by those of the Detroit Tigers’ Sparky Anderson among current managers.

Here was a man whose teams had finished lower than second only twice in 18 1/2 seasons at the Orioles’ helm and whose winning percentage of .596 led to six division titles, four pennants and a World Series championship.

As Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey said: “Earl was special, but I didn’t realize it until he was gone. No one knew what he did for us until we didn’t have him anymore. He pushed us and made all of us better.”

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The Orioles may not have handled it well, Altobelli’s contention that they have shed a veneer of class being accurate, but it is difficult to disagree with Williams’ thinking.

Even Peters, Altobelli’s supporter who had lobbied for his hiring when Williams had initially sought to replace Weaver with a stronger personality and more recognizable face, came around to it.

Another victory for the noted attorney.

Will Weaver stay beyond 1985? Naturally. If he’s being paid $400,000 to manage two-thirds of a season, he figures to make $600,000 for a full one. As Williams said: “He’s had his two years on the golf course and the bowling alley.”

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How good are the Toronto Blue Jays?

“No better than the Tigers,” Detroit’s Kirk Gibson said in the wake of last week’s four-game split.

Gibson said that the Blue Jays can be caught. “Every team has its ups and downs,” he said. “Anyone can go well during the peaks. I want to see them in their valleys.”

It wasn’t so long ago that Chuck Tanner managed the Chicago White Sox and his son, Bruce, served as batboy. Now managing the Pirates, Tanner’s long summer was brightened Wednesday night when Bruce won his major league debut as a starter for the White Sox, going 6 innings at Seattle.

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The last White Sox rookie to win a starting debut was Ross Baumgarten, who did it Aug. 16, 1978. Coincidentally, Baumgarten ultimately made his way to Pittsburgh, where he was released by Tanner in 1982.

Bruce’s debut featured three perfect innings, enough to make any dad proud but not necessarily enough to surpass dad’s own major league debut. The senior Tanner is one of only 11 hitters to have hit a home run on the first pitch thrown to him in the big leagues. He did that as a pinch-hitter with the Milwaukee Braves in 1955.

His son actually got his official indoctrination the night before he pitched. Chicago catcher Marc Hill beckoned him to the clubhouse telephone, telling him he had a call. When Bruce put the phone to his ear, he learned Hill had filled the earpiece with shaving cream.

St. Paul hypnotherapist Harvey Misel believes he can help the schizophrenic Minnesota Twins, who have had losing streaks of 9 and 10 games, as well as a 10-game winning streak.

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Misel, who worked with the White Sox when they won 99 games and a Western Division title in 1983, said of the Twins: “This is the kind of team I like to work with. The talent is here. It reminds me of the White Sox in 1983.”

Said Minnesota Manager Billy Gardner, obviously not high on the possibility of Misel’s hiring: “He also helped the White Sox in ’84, right?”

The White Sox, of course, were in a trance of a different kind last year, finishing fifth in the West with a 74-88 record.

Boston may have the league’s most powerful lineup, but pitching has put the Red Sox back in the race. Bolstered by the return of Bobby Ojeda from the bullpen and Bruce Kison and Al Nipper from the disabled list, Boston starters had a 2.26 earned-run average during a 12-2 span in late May and early June. The starters were 4-10 with a 5.91 ERA during a previous span of 25 games.

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Minnesota outfielder Mickey Hatcher, who might have been headed for Toronto in a trade for pitching help, has ended up in a Twin Cities hospital instead. Hatcher, suffering from back spasms, is in traction and will not be released until Monday.

Add Minnesota injuries: Roy Smalley’s pride was wounded when Gardner announced that the former shortstop would become strictly a utility man. Gardner cited Smalley’s lack of range in naming Greg Gagne as his full-time shortstop.

The manager said it had nothing to do with the previous week’s incident in which pitcher Frank Viola questioned Smalley’s intensity, and Smalley questioned Viola’s ability to judge intensity when he is on the field only once every five days.

George Argyros, whose real estate and business empire is headquartered in Orange County, claims he has lost about $17 million in four years as owner of the Seattle Mariners.

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He is demanding a restructuring of the Kingdome lease that runs through 1996. He wants three years of deferred rent, allowing him to catch up with his losses. He also wants an escape clause that would allow him to move the club as early as 1987.

The county is reportedly willing to grant the deferred rent, but it is strongly against an escape clause.

Argyros has yet to say where he would take the Mariners, but it’s suspected that he’d love to see Gene Autry’s feud with the city of Anaheim prompt The Cowboy to saddle up the Angels and move out.


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