they were kids growing up in the foothills of western Maryland, Mazzone and Sam
Perlozzo made a pact two decades ago when they were both minor league coaches,
Mazzone in the Braves' system and Perlozzo in the Mets'. "We promised each
other that before our careers were over, we'd coach together," says
Mazzone, the new pitching coach in Baltimore, where Perlozzo became manager
last August. "I'm here because Sammy's here. I always said it would take
something special for me to leave Atlanta."
Over the last
15-plus seasons with the Braves, Mazzone (above, right, with Perlazzo) became
the best-known pitching coach in the game--as much for his constantly rocking
in his seat on the bench alongside manager Bobby Cox as for developing some of
the National League's best pitchers (six Cy Young Awards, 20 or more wins nine
times, 10 different All-Stars) and presiding over staffs that ranked first or
second in the league in ERA for 12 of the last 14 years.
That's not to say
that the 57-year-old Mazzone can afford to kick back and relax with his buddy
Perlozzo, 55, this season. There's a big job ahead of him, and if Mazzone works
his magic with the Orioles staff--which has had no 20-game winners in 22 years
and an ERA above 4.45 every season since 1997--he will cement his status as one
of the game's great pitching coaches (perhaps even Hall of Fame material).
"I came in knowing that there was a core of very good young arms to work
with," says Mazzone, who rejected overtures from the Yankees before signing
a three-year, $1.35 million deal with Baltimore. "This can be a very good
staff this year."
A disciple of
pitching sages Johnny Sain and George Bamberger, Mazzone distinguished himself
by guiding Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz to peak performances and
resurrecting the careers of John Burkett, Chris Hammond, Mike Hampton, Darren
Holmes and Mike Remlinger. "One of the biggest things was that he had a
plan," says Remlinger, a Brave from 1999 through 2002, "and as a
pitcher you could buy into it because you could see it working."
Baltimore's staff is young and inexperienced: The Orioles' most promising
starters, 27-year-old Erik Bedard and 24-year-old Daniel Cabrera, have 34 major
league wins combined; new closer Chris Ray, 24, made his major league debut
last June, served as B.J. Ryan's setup man and is still looking for his first
his pitchers for the first time on the grass of Fort Lauderdale Stadium in late
February, and they listened in rapt silence. Blunt in his delivery, Mazzone
preaches that movement and location are more important than velocity, believes
in building arm strength (his pitchers throw twice between starts, while most
coaches typically require one bullpen session) and wastes no time reciting his
basic tenet in a booming voice: "My job is to get you ready to throw
strikes, especially down and away. In Atlanta we owned that pitch."
His new pupils
are all ears. "Especially for newer guys like me, he immediately commands
respect and attention," says Ray. "Knowing what he accomplished in
Atlanta, you have to believe in every word he says."