Blame for team's failure belongs with front office


May 24, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Let me give you a quick assessment of the Orioles, as they're now constituted. They have a manager in Johnny Oates with no experience. They have a general manager in Roland Hemond who is afraid of the president. They have a president in Larry Lucchino who is afraid of the owner. And they have an owner in Eli Jacobs whose major concern, other than attendance figures, is whether or not Dick Cheney is coming to the game on a given night.

That's the kind of front-office setup that inevitably leads to firing a manager the minute something goes wrong. It's the easy way out. The uncreative way out. The unimaginative way out. The cowardly way out.

And if you hadn't thought of this yourselves, which I'm sure you had, it's also the original baseball cliche, invented just after spitting.

Firing Frank Robinson was the act of a desperate front office that apparently doesn't have any clue what else to do to make things better, especially because spending money doesn't seem to be an available option. Sure, fire the manager. What's next -- new unforms.

You should have seen the front-office boys at work yesterday. In a news conference, club officials stood up and talked out of both sides of their mouths -- you try doing that at the same time; fortunately, these folks are experienced -- about what a great guy Frank Robinson is and how much he has meant to the organization and how it wasn't really his fault, but, hey, somebody had to go.

These were Hemond's words exactly: "The manager just pays the price."


Why shouldn't Hemond pay the price? Why shouldn't Lucchino?

This, again, is what Hemond had to say: "I've been watching the situation closely as it evolved. We have to play better, more entertaining baseball. We haven't given our fans the baseball they deserved."

He's right. The Orioles have been lousy. The fans deserve better. What they deserve is better players.

They don't deserve to hear that Robinson was "reassigned" when he was actually fired. They don't deserve to hear that it was a "hard decision" when it was the easiest decision the Orioles could have made. They don't deserve to hear that Hemond was the person who "reassigned" Robinson when Lucchino's fingerprints are all over this one.

Here's what I know: The Orioles have named their fourth manager in six years. What does that suggest to you? Could it be that the problem in the organization does not lie with the manager? At the very least, it seems to suggest that the Orioles front office has done a lousy job naming managers.

Here are a few more things I'm pretty sure about: Once Glenn Davis went down, the Orioles were no longer contenders. And until Ben McDonald shows he can be a star and either Jeff Ballard or Bob Milacki steps forward, the Orioles are not even a good team. Also, they're a beaten-up, injured team that has very few personnel options. Whose fault is that -- Robinson's?

Robinson was fired because he was the one who could be fired. He was fired because Lucchino can now say he's doing everything possible to lift the Orioles out of the American League East cellar.

It was a wonderful job of shifting the blame, and they couldn't have timed it better. With New York and Cleveland coming in next, the Orioles might actually get something going. Besides, the Orioles are not quite this bad. Inevitably, they will play better, regardless of who is managing the team.

A more important question is this: Can the Orioles get better with the people in place who are operating the team? Three years ago, they went to Frank Robinson with a ballclub that was bankrupt and on its way to a 21-game losing streak. He settled the team down and helped with the rebuilding. A year later, he was Manager of the Year. Why? Not because the team won the division -- it didn't. He won because the team overachieved.

Last season, when the team finished fifth, it deserved to finish fifth. That was how good, or bad, the personnel was. The personnel isn't much better this year. The Orioles' big off-season moves were to pick up an aging Dwight Evans and to rent slugger Glenn Davis for a season. If Davis were playing and the starting pitching had shown promise, the Orioles might have been decent.

How do you blame Robinson for what happened instead?

If we're going to blame someone, let's blame the front office. Why not? It's fun, and it seems to be deserved. If there's someone in there whose judgment I trust, it's Doug Melvin, the assistant general manager. Hemond is perfect for the Orioles because he's a guy used to getting by on the cheap. He learned it under Bill Veeck, who didn't have any money. These Orioles, according to estimates I've heard, turned a profit last season of more than $10 million. This is a team that can afford to make moves to improve the product. Apparently, however, Lucchino has been unable to pry loose the money. Or maybe he has never asked.

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