Friends sincethey were kids growing up in the foothills of western Maryland, Mazzone and SamPerlozzo 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 eachother that before our careers were over, we'd coach together," saysMazzone, the new pitching coach in Baltimore, where Perlozzo became managerlast August. "I'm here because Sammy's here. I always said it would takesomething special for me to leave Atlanta."
Over the last15-plus seasons with the Braves, Mazzone (above, right, with Perlazzo) becamethe best-known pitching coach in the game--as much for his constantly rockingin his seat on the bench alongside manager Bobby Cox as for developing some ofthe National League's best pitchers (six Cy Young Awards, 20 or more wins ninetimes, 10 different All-Stars) and presiding over staffs that ranked first orsecond in the league in ERA for 12 of the last 14 years.
That's not to saythat the 57-year-old Mazzone can afford to kick back and relax with his buddyPerlozzo, 55, this season. There's a big job ahead of him, and if Mazzone workshis magic with the Orioles staff--which has had no 20-game winners in 22 yearsand an ERA above 4.45 every season since 1997--he will cement his status as oneof 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 workwith," says Mazzone, who rejected overtures from the Yankees before signinga three-year, $1.35 million deal with Baltimore. "This can be a very goodstaff this year."
A disciple ofpitching sages Johnny Sain and George Bamberger, Mazzone distinguished himselfby guiding Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz to peak performances andresurrecting the careers of John Burkett, Chris Hammond, Mike Hampton, DarrenHolmes and Mike Remlinger. "One of the biggest things was that he had aplan," says Remlinger, a Brave from 1999 through 2002, "and as apitcher you could buy into it because you could see it working."Baltimore's staff is young and inexperienced: The Orioles' most promisingstarters, 27-year-old Erik Bedard and 24-year-old Daniel Cabrera, have 34 majorleague wins combined; new closer Chris Ray, 24, made his major league debutlast June, served as B.J. Ryan's setup man and is still looking for his firstsave.
Mazzone addressedhis pitchers for the first time on the grass of Fort Lauderdale Stadium in lateFebruary, and they listened in rapt silence. Blunt in his delivery, Mazzonepreaches that movement and location are more important than velocity, believesin building arm strength (his pitchers throw twice between starts, while mostcoaches typically require one bullpen session) and wastes no time reciting hisbasic tenet in a booming voice: "My job is to get you ready to throwstrikes, especially down and away. In Atlanta we owned that pitch."
His new pupilsare all ears. "Especially for newer guys like me, he immediately commandsrespect and attention," says Ray. "Knowing what he accomplished inAtlanta, you have to believe in every word he says."