Orioles manager, a GW alumnus, is at home in the trenches

BALTIMORE – In one seemingly thoughtless motion, Sam Perlozzo stands up from the bench and leans against the railing facing the finely manicured turf of Camden Yards.

The number two shows prominently on the back of his orange practice jersey and in parentheses under the brim of his hat, to separate his gear from the rest of his squads’. His perfectly tanned olive skin, sans wrinkles, shows no sign of the tumultuous season he is enduring.

Looking out onto the green grass and familiar dirt is an old sight that Perlozzo has seen for almost 30 years. As manager of the Baltimore Orioles, nothing could bother the GW alumnus.

A steroid scandal, rapid descent from first place and all of this on the shoulders of an interim coach. It’s all in a year’s work.

“When it’s all said and done,” Perlozzo said, “I’ll have gone through probably as much if not more than any manager in the major leagues this year than they have this whole season.”

A rough beginning

Perlozzo’s employer of 10 years, Peter Angelos, did not choose him to fill the coaching vacancy left by the firing of Mike Hargrove after the 2003 season. Instead, the owner chose former New York Yankee bench coach Lee Mazzilli. After releasing Mazzilli in the middle of a losing streak in August, Perlozzo got the nod from Angelos to take the reins. When his contract expires next year, Perlozzo hopes to stay in Maryland but is realistic about the prospect of going elsewhere.

“Whether I’m managing this club next year or coaching somewhere else or managing somewhere else, at least I’ll know that I’ve given it my best and came in and did the best I could,” Perlozzo said in a dugout interview with The Hatchet before the Orioles’ Sept. 17 game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. “I’ll be happy with myself. I won’t leave this place knowing that I didn’t do what I’m supposed to do in this situation.”

Security is something that the 54-year-old has only come to know recently, having bounced around the minor-league circuit for years. His long, strange trip back to Maryland began in 1982 as a manager in the Mets’ farm system. After five seasons in New York, Perlozzo won three league titles without ever compiling a losing record.

The Mets brought Perlozzo up as a major-league third base coach in 1987. Before joining the Orioles staff on Jan. 5, 1996, the skipper never stayed more than three seasons coaching in one city.

“How much better could it be?” Perlozzo said with a smile on his face. “I mean how much better can you have it? I grew up being an Oriole or Pirate fan. Except for the exceptional player somewhere else, I knew all the Orioles and all the Pirates. When I was in the American league and came down here I used to say, ‘It would really be cool to coach for the Orioles.’ To manage, god darn. You know. So I’ll have done it for at least two months at the end of the year.”

A lifetime in the game

Two months is nothing in what seems like a lifetime of baseball. As a professional player, Perlozzo again epitomized a journeyman. On Aug. 15, 1972, Perlozzo signed with the Minnesota Twins as a free agent but was immediately sent down to the minors to fine-tune his skills. In 1973, he headed south to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and played minor-league ball until joining the Twins for 10 games in September. In 1980, Perlozzo took advantage of Japanese baseball league, signing with the Yakult Swallows of Japan’s Center League and launching a career-high 15 home runs.

Out of his high school in Cumberland, Md., where he still lives, Perlozzo was recruited by GW’s Steve Korcheck. The coach went to see Perlozzo play at Bell High School, but the contest was snowed out.

“He said, ‘I want to give you a full scholarship.’ I said, ‘Hey, you can’t do that.’ He said, ‘What do you mean I can’t.’ I said, ‘You haven’t seen me play.’ And he said, ‘I’ve talked to enough people, you are going to get a scholarship.’ He wanted to take me and the family out to dinner and my mom said, ‘No I’m making him spaghetti and he said at least let me buy the sauce.’ It was great, he came over to the house and he sat there and gave me a full baseball scholarship.”

As a high school prospect, Perlozzo gazed at GW’s schedule and was thoroughly impressed.

“They had a good schedule at the time. What I thought was a good schedule, for a kid coming out of Cumberland, Maryland,” Perlozzo said. “They had the southern road trip down into Clemson, North Carolina and places like that. I’m looking at school names going ‘wow.'”

The skipper graduated from GW in 1973 with a degree in physical education. Foggy Bottom was a different place at the time but Perlozzo contends some things are still the same.

“If there’s grass on the baseball field, it doesn’t matter if there’s grass anywhere else.”

But keeping with GW tradition, grass was hard to find. Perlozzo’s squad found grass at the end of F Street to their home field: the Ellipse.

“There was no fence and business people wouldn’t pay attention and walk across the field with their briefcases and you’d have to call time out and wait till they get across,” Perlozzo reminisced. “The presidential helicopter landed and the ump had to stop the game and check all the balls. There was a field at one end. If you had a home run, you had to keep running because there was no fence.”

Proud of his past and looking to the future

Things have changed a bit for GW baseball. The team now travels south to Arlington, Va.’s Bancroft Park to play their home games. The GW baseball program is also better known within professional baseball circles, despite Perlozzo being only one of two players involved in the major league today.

“I think GW does a great job with the baseball program,” Perlozzo said. “They are in the playoffs and the scouts are going to come and see it. If you have a good baseball program, scouts will come. That’s just the way it is. If you have a good coach and program and you’re putting out players, scouts will come and look at you. And they’ve done that over the past several years.”

But in his days, scouts have come and gone. Players, like his own Rafael Palmeiro, have gone from heroic to purported criminal. Perlozzo has seen a lot in his day and says the game is different, but parts remain the same.

“The money has changed the game,” Perlozzo said. “Guaranteed contracts have changed the game. And the media changed the game. There’s so much hype. They hype things up. They cause things to happen that shouldn’t be happening, instead of just going out and playing the game.”

The way the skipper runs his team would make baseball’s older crowd very happy.

“I guess I’m old school – that’s what they call me,” Perlozzo said. “I thought I was just old. But I’m old school. Thank God there are enough players in the major leagues that are down and dirty and want to play baseball and have a love of the game and respect the game.”

One new facet of baseball that does not bother number two is the team that is making some noise down the road. Perlozzo’s former roommate at GW, Bill Collins, is a prospective owner of the Washington Nationals franchise.

“I don’t worry myself too much with Washington,” Perlozzo said with a smile. “I mean, shoot, I have enough problems down here. It doesn’t matter to me. I know if we do what we’re supposed to do we don’t have to worry about other people.”

Grabbing hold of the fence that separates his dugout from the field, Perlozzo pulls himself up to toss a baseball with one of his coaches. Although some may say the game is diametrically different than years ago, Perlozzo’s 1969 statement about his entrance to GW remains the same.

“I wanted to play baseball.”

And he still does.

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