11/07/2003 9:25 PM ET
Orioles name Mazzilli manager
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
BALTIMORE -- Before Lee Mazzilli walked into the Warehouse for his managerial interview last month, executive vice president Jim Beattie had little personal knowledge of the Yankees' first base coach.
What's more, his impression of Mazzilli was rather odd.
"For me, I thought of Lee Mazzilli as the Italian Stallion from New York City," Beattie said. "But there was nothing further from the truth. Coming out of Lee's interview, it was like 'Wow.' The whole package that was presented was outstanding."
That Oct. 30 interview encouraged Beattie and general manager Mike Flanagan to hire Mazzilli as the Orioles' 15th manager on Friday, handing the former Major League outfielder the responsibility of leading a oft-struggling team back to prominence.
Mazzilli signed a two-year contract with options for the 2006 and '07 seasons.
Just two days after being promoted to third base coach for the Yankees -- and admittedly having the Orioles job in the back of his mind -- Mazzilli officially broke ties with his beloved New York. Mazzilli, 48, was born in Brooklyn, played 10 seasons with the Mets and coached four with the Yankees.
"I'm not a Yankee anymore, I'm an Oriole," he said as Beattie began a round of applause. "This is one of the greatest days of my life. This is something I have always wanted and I am excited about the opportunity."
Mazzilli edged out Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo and Milwaukee bench coach and former Oriole Rich Dauer for the job. Mazzilli was the seventh candidate to interview, but blew away team officials with his confidence and knowledge of the game.
Beattie and Flanagan had several questions planned during Mazzilli's interview, and as if he was stealing signs, Mazzilli appeared as if he knew what was coming.
"He was so prepared," said Flanagan, who has been friends with Mazzilli since their brief tenure together in Toronto. "He was one step ahead of us the whole time."
Said Beattie: "Most of the other candidates waited until we asked questions but he had questions for us. By the time we ended, we had so much more we left to ask him, but that's how fast things went. He was so comfortable."
Mazzilli replaces Mike Hargrove, who was dismissed on Sept. 29 after four consecutive losing seasons. The Orioles have endured six consecutive losing years and the organization is seeking a rapid return to respectability. Initially, it appeared as if Beattie and Flanagan -- at the urging of owner Peter Angelos -- were seeking an candidate with Oriole ties, hence the interviews with Eddie Murray, Dauer and first base coach Rick Dempsey.
After conducting four solid but not spectacular interviews, Beattie and Flanagan brought in Oakland bench coach Terry Francona, Tampa Bay third base coach Tom Foley, Mazzilli and former Boston manager Grady Little last week. After club officials met Tuesday, Mazzilli was their overwhelming choice.
"He was the right guy for us at the right time," Flanagan said. "Of course, there were more experienced candidates, but with guys like Mazzilli, they usually don't have to be coaches long before they get their chance."
The catch, according to Flanagan, was selling Mazzilli to Angelos, who apparently wanted a manager with Oriole ties. Beattie and Flanagan decided on Mazzilli at about 9 p.m. (ET) on Thursday and then met with Angelos about an hour later. Flanagan called Mazzilli in Connecticut and gave him the good news.
"He said, 'You are our guy,'" Mazzilli said. "It was a long week. I put together a TV with my (son) last night and it was a long evening. I kept hearing it would happen every hour and when I finally got the word, it was definitely a relief."
Mazzilli said the first thing he did was call Yankee manager Joe Torre, who was at a benefit in San Francisco, along with St. Louis manager Tony La Russa. Both welcomed Mazzilli to the exclusive managerial club.
"I couldn't be happier for him," Torre said in a statement." I had a chance to talk with him after he accepted the job and I know that he's excited. He certainly has gained valuable experience over the years and I have a great deal of confidence that he'll do a fine job with the Orioles."
Mazzilli agreed to retain the entire Oriole coaching staff but there is no certainty all will return. Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks attended the press conference but Dempsey, Perlozzo, pitching coach Mark Wiley and third base coach Tom Trebelhorn all have the option of leaving.
Perlozzo, who was unavailable for comment on Friday, said Thursday night that he would return if Mazzilli was hired. The two have been friends since Mazzilli played six games for Perlozzo while on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tidewater in 1986.
It was the third time in the past four years Perlozzo has been passed up for a managerial job. He interviewed with the O's in 1999 before Hargrove was hired and was a finalist last winter for the Seattle job that went to Bob Melvin.
"I'm very comfortable with this coaching staff," Mazzilli said. "They are all good, quality baseball people. And I am looking forward to working with them. This is not a rebuilding situation and I am ready to get started."
Flanagan said he has contacted most of the candidates but had not spoken with Murray, who was headed to California on Friday. Murray was considered an early frontrunner after interviewing for the job three days after the season. But club officials privately were concerned with Murray's strained relationship with the media and whether he was prepared for the everyday chores of managing.
Mazzilli, who managed three years in the Yankee farm system, was popular amongst the New York media and Yankee players. Derek Jeter called Mazzilli as he rode in a limousine from the airport and Jeter jokingly said that if he is plucked with a pitch next season, he is charging the dugout.
"I am going to miss New York, but it was time for me to move on," he said. "This is a great opportunity for me. We have a lot of work to do. It is not going to be easy competing with great teams like the Yankees, but we are going to win here. We want to go out there with a chance to win every day."
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.