Mazzone will not return to O's in 2008
Pitching coach guided Baltimore's hurlers for past two years
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles parted ways with pitching coach Leo Mazzone on Friday, allowing the veteran to pursue other opportunities for next season.
Baltimore will still be responsible for Mazzone's full salary -- which is reportedly worth $500,000 -- but will pay less if he takes another job. Brad Steele, Mazzone's business manager, said the move didn't come as a surprise.
"He had a strong inclination after Sam Perlozzo was fired and Dave Trembley was hired that he wouldn't be back," Steele said. "He had some conversations with [Baltimore executive] Andy MacPhail at the end of the season, and it seemed that the team would be making wholesale changes to the coaching staff. Some of them may even be announced today."
Mazzone, a celebrated coach who helped the Atlanta Braves win 14 straight division titles, spent two seasons in Baltimore. He was lured to join the Orioles by his lifelong friendship with Perlozzo, who was dismissed as manager back in June. Mazzone repeatedly stated that he wanted to be back next season, but it just didn't work out that way.
"He really wants to be part of a winning staff," Steele said. "He'll be 59 years old on Tuesday and he still has a lot of fire in the belly. He wanted to help Baltimore turn it around, but it appears that that's not going to happen."
Mazzone's pitchers won six Cy Young Awards during his 15-year tenure in Atlanta, and the Braves rode to glory with the venerable starting troika of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Mazzone's Baltimore staffs didn't have the same kind of talent, but he predicted big things for the young arms that are already assembled.
"When I look at Erik Bedard, Jeremy Guthrie, Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen," he said in September, "in my heart of hearts I feel that those four starters -- if we get them some help -- can compete for a championship."
Bedard thrived under Mazzone and credited the coach with teaching him a circle-changeup, a pitch he uses sparingly. Guthrie and Loewen also made progress with Mazzone's tutelage, but Cabrera remains a largely talented enigma. Baltimore finished with the second-highest ERA (5.17) in baseball this year and the worst relief ERA (5.71) in franchise history.
Injuries played a large role in those statistics, and the Orioles lost the services of three starters (Kris Benson, Jaret Wright and Loewen) for most or all of the year. Baltimore finished the season on a down note, losing 28 of its last 39 games and surviving with a pitching staff full of retreads and prospects that weren't quite ready to pitch in the big leagues.
The Orioles pitched to a 6.89 ERA in September, causing Mazzone to bemoan the lack of "varsity talent" on-hand. That late-season sentiment spoke volumes, but so does his career philosophy. Mazzone has said that he keeps an inspirational note in his briefcase that says, "If you don't care who gets the credit, you'll be more successful."
"When I first became a Minor League coach, I thought everybody worked together to develop a product. But everybody was jockeying for position to move up themselves," he said early in the year. "It was worse among the coaches than it ever was with players. I don't know if you'd call it competitive, but that's what made me appreciate that note. The only credit I want to see is a pitcher performing well -- and them getting the credit for performing well. Me, I just lay in the weeds."
Alan Dunn, who joined the Orioles as bullpen coach midway through the season, appears to be the favorite to take over for Mazzone. Trembley, who worked with Dunn in the Cubs' organization, has expressed confidence in his abilities. Earlier in the season, when told he'd be back next year, Trembley immediately inquired about the possibility of hiring Dunn.
"The first person I asked for at that dinner meeting was Alan Dunn," he said in August. "You have to have people that have the same attitude and philosophy that you have. That's not to say that other people don't, but I know Alan Dunn."
Trembley also issued a comment Friday as part of an official release sent out by the Orioles.
"I spoke with Leo today and told him I appreciated his efforts here," he said. "Moving forward, I felt that we would be better served with someone else working with our young staff and that it was in his best interests and our best interests to give him an opportunity to look elsewhere now."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.