Our condolences today go out to Marcel Lachemann, the 14th and latest man to sign on as field manager for the Front Office That Can't Think Straight, and with them, a few words of friendly advice.
If you want to keep your job longer than Buck Rodgers did, Lach, you better learn the following phrases, commit them to memory and spout them every so often--say, oh, on the hour.
Repeat after me:
"We don't have three pitchers in our starting rotation who were released by other teams. We have three pitchers in our starting rotation who were simply granted their independence. And darn it, isn't that exactly what this great country of ours was founded on?"
"Bill Bavasi offered to make a waiver claim on a pitcher today, but I told him, 'Whoa, Mr. Bavasi, slow down. Please. (Remember: Always say please.) You've loaded this team with far too much talent already.' "
"You call her Mrs. Autry. I call her Mrs. Generosity."
"Phil Leftwich or Lefty Grove, I can't tell the difference."
"My friend, you must have misunderstood me. I never said Chris Turner might be better on the bench. I said Chris Turner might be better than Bench."
"J.T. Snow is my first baseman."
And, most importantly:
"Richard Brown sure knows his baseball. What an eye for talent. Bryan Harvey, Jim Abbott, Dante Bichette, Devon White, Dave Winfield, Wally Joyner, Luis Polonia--Mr. Brown and his general managers found good jobs for all of them all throughout the major leagues. And who else could have pioneered the revolutionary one-man, one-year system for general managers? The man's another Branch Rickey, I tell you. In fact, he should be our next commissioner."
What else does Lachemann need to know?
That the First Amendment, something he may have heard about while coaching pitchers for his brother in Florida, does not apply out here. Free speech? Kiss it goodby. This is a totalitarian state, this vacuous lot on the corner of Katella and State College, where the act of speaking one's mind is a criminal offense, punishable by swift and inscrutable termination.
Got an opinion?
Better keep it to yourself. Rodgers didn't, and because he couldn't, he could be found standing in front of a podium at the Jolly Roger Inn Wednesday afternoon, shaking his head as he tried to understand why he was no longer managing the Angels.
For the next 30 minutes, Rodgers took a few stabs at it, though. And along the way, might have uncovered a new strain of cancer.
Its scientific name: Richardbrownanoma .
Rodgers stumbled upon his discovery during a line of questioning that produced an almost comical process of elimination.
The inquiry began after Rodgers admitted to a "personality conflict" within the organization.
Reporter: "A personality conflict with whom?"
Rodgers: "I don't know, I don't know. It wasn't Billy Bavasi. It wasn't Gene Autry.
"As far as I know, it wasn't Jackie Autry."
A smattering of laughs.
Reporter: "Was it Rich Brown?"
Rodgers: "I don't know. I'm not going to . . . All I know is that this situation with the California Angels has gone on a long time. And I know that Mike Port was let loose, Doug Rader was let loose, Dan O'Brien is not here any longer, Whitey Herzog is not here any longer. Um, I'm here no longer. But there's still some kind of cancer here with the California Angels.
"That's all I know. I think that's very obvious to anybody who's been around this club for 15 minutes."
Hmmm. Port, Rader, O'Brien, Herzog, Rodgers--all summarily dispatched during Brown's reign as Angel president.
Rodgers believed he had happened upon a common thread.
"This organization isn't all bad," Rodgers said. "This organization is very salvageable. But there are some things that are not gonna happen. There's a certain amount of paranoia that has to get out of here. There's a fear of failure that has to go."
Rodgers alluded to a conversation he had with Brown last week in which he said Brown accused Rodgers of stabbing him in the back.
"He said that I said he didn't know anything about baseball," Rodgers said.
"Even if I believed that, I wouldn't say that.
"I told him that if I believed that, I would say it to his face. And I didn't say it. I deny saying it."
Rodgers believed the conversation ended on a positive note--"When I walked out of there, he said 'Fine,' and I said 'Fine,'--but a few days later, all was not fine. Rodgers was gone, and firmly convinced that Brown was the one who pulled the trigger.
Rodgers isn't the first former Angel employee sent out the door muttering about Brown. Privately, Port and Rader made similar complaints after their dismissals, and after Port was fired, Joyner commented, very publicly, that the ax should have been directed instead at Brown.
And if not an atmosphere of paranoia, Brown has certainly fostered an atmosphere of instability in his 3 1/2 years in charge of the Angel front office. Consider the exit list of the Brown era:
--General managers fired/forced out: (3) Port, O'Brien, Herzog.
--Managers fired: (2) Rader, Rodgers.
--Fan favorites run out of town: (6) Joyner, Bichette, Winfield, Abbott, Harvey, Polonia.
Those are some heavy casualties, but none was a bigger hit than Rodgers, whose firing has already drawn comparisons to that all-time gaffe of Angel gaffes, the Nolan Ryan Decision.
Yes, this one was that bad. For once, the Angels had the right man in place. The patient, buoyant Rodgers was as perfectly suited for this young, under-skilled group as gritty Gene Mauch was for the jaded veterans of the mid-80s. If anyone could lead the Angels back to respectability, it was Rodgers, who had been there before with the Expos.
Experience told him it would be painful, though, and Rodgers refused to sugar-coat it. He was the Last Honest Man in the Angel Organization, given to calling a spade a spade, even if Brown preferred nothing but aces and 24-hour-a-day happy talk.
Nothing wrong with the Angels got better with the announcement of Rodgers' firing Tuesday. Everything lacking with this team and this organization remains in place. The only difference is that Rodgers won't be around to remind us of it.
So welcome back, Lach, and do remember this as you add your name to the Angels' merry-go-round tonight:
You have the right to remain silent.