BALTIMORE (AP)—He’s got plenty of free time and still is being paid handsomely by the Baltimore Orioles, so there’s really no limit to what Leo Mazzone can do this spring.
He’s played golf, visited a few nice restaurants with his wife and planted strawberries, blueberries, onions and tomatoes in the backyard of their lavish new home in Roswell, Ga. Yet, Mazzone can’t remember ever feeling so useless, exasperated and miserable.
The esteemed pitching coach is out of a job, and he can’t stand it. The 59-year-old Mazzone usually spends this time of the year rocking back and forth in the dugout, watching one of his pupils try to work out of a jam. What he’s doing now is more suitable for the rocking chair on his porch.
“What I’m doing is sitting here dying to get back into baseball again,” Mazzone said. “When spring training hit, it was the first time in 40 years I wasn’t on the baseball field. It affected me pretty good.”
After the Orioles fired him last October with one season left on a $1.5 million, three-year deal, Mazzone was guaranteed a salary in 2008 without having to leave his house. He has since learned that playing golf and gardening isn’t as challenging as grooming pitchers in the big leagues. Heck, it’s not even close.
“Everybody says, ‘Just relax and enjoy your time, your contract runs through Oct. 31,”’ he said. “But that’s not the point. The point is that I enjoy myself when I’m down in that bullpen working with pitchers, and I miss the whole love affair with the major leagues I’ve had since I was 9 years old.”
After a highly successful run with the Atlanta Braves, Mazzone left for Baltimore after the 2005 season. He received a hefty raise and got to work with his best friend, Sam Perlozzo. But if he had it to do over, Mazzone would accept whatever Atlanta offered and assume his customary place in the dugout next to Braves manager Bobby Cox.
“At the time it was a great move, but now I regret it. You see the difference in organizations and how things are run and, believe me, the Atlanta Braves are about as good as it gets,” Mazzone said.
“I got a chance to go back to my home state. My dad’s 86 and my mother’s 81, and they got to see me more in two years than they had in the last 16. Then I have three boys that live up in western Maryland. So we were able to get a lot closer. That part of it was good. But now, as I sit here on my back porch, I second-guess it.”
He’s out of the game and desperate to get back in. He has no expectations of matching his salary with the Orioles, and won’t subject a would-be employer to dealing with an agent. If you want Leo Mazzone to be your pitching coach, just dial him up and make an offer.
“I’ve let it be known to general managers in the big leagues that money is not an issue. I don’t want them thinking it is,” he said. “I’m ready to bounce whenever somebody calls. I’ll have my bags packed in 10 minutes.”
Born in West Virginia and raised in Maryland, Mazzone made his professional debut in 1967 as a 19-year-old pitcher with Double-A Amarillo. After nine lackluster seasons, he abandoned hope of playing in the majors and became a coach. He was a minor league manager from 1976-79 and served as a coach in the Braves system before being named pitching coach of the big league club on June 22, 1990, the same day Cox took over as manager.
Over the next 15 1/2 years, Mazzone established himself as one of the foremost authorities on pitching. The Braves finished first or second in the NL in ERA in 12 of his final 14 seasons, and he helped develop six Cy Young Award winners. Mazzone had 10 different pitchers selected to an All-Star team, including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
During that time, he literally wrote the book(s) on being a successful pitching coach—“Tales From The Mound” and “Pitch Like a Pro.”
Mazzone loved Atlanta, but couldn’t resist the chance to work with Perlozzo, then manager of the Orioles. Mazzone served as best man at Perlozzo’s wedding, and the two often spoke of collaborating at the major league level.
But little went right for Mazzone or the Orioles in 2006 and 2007. In his first season, Baltimore ranked 13th in the 14-team AL with a 5.35 ERA. In June of the following season, Perlozzo was fired. Mazzone stayed on, but four months later he was released after Baltimore finished with a 5.17 ERA and a major league high 696 walks.
He intended to latch on with another team in 2008, but none came calling. And now it’s May, and Mazzone is still out of a job.
“Yeah, I am surprised,” Cox said. “But I think he was terminated at a late time, too, that year. Everybody else had people.”
Two years earlier, Mazzone would have been a welcome addition to any big league staff. But the poor performance of Baltimore’s pitching staff under his direction seemingly took a toll on his once-pristine reputation.
“I don’t believe that,” Perlozzo said. “Good baseball people know that Leo didn’t have much to work with there, and we had plenty of injuries on top of that. He’s still one of the best out there. I am very confident he will get a job, maybe even this year.”
After being fired by the Orioles, Perlozzo spent last summer squirming through an unwanted vacation. Now third base coach of the Seattle Mariners, Perlozzo knows just what Mazzone is going through.
“Leo really enjoys being on the field. It’s kind of like all he’s ever done,” Perlozzo said. “I wish he was happy and doing what he loves.”
Mazzone occasionally serves as an analyst for FOX, but that only whets his appetite for his former job. Being in the broadcast booth is interesting, but it doesn’t compare to rocking in the dugout or teaching in the bullpen, trying to mold a thrower into a pitcher.
“The broadcasting thing has been enjoyable. That can be a second career down the road,” Mazzone said. “In the meantime, I need to get back on the baseball field. I’m a pitching coach, and that’s where I belong.”