Hemond remains unfazed by critics, spot in cellar Questions increase about job security

June 05, 1991|By Mark Hyman

If you were sitting at Roland Hemond's desk this morning, would you be concerned that the desk might not be yours on Opening Day 1992?

You might if you craved security. As general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Hemond is not exactly awash in it right now.

Consider these observations to gnaw fingernails by:

* Hemond is 61, youthful for a shuffleboard champion but not the age at which baseball executives can expect lengthy contract extensions.

* He's in the final year of his contract, which costs the budget-conscious Orioles about $300,000 a year.

* He presides over a front office in which seemingly one of two employees wants his job. Assistant GM Doug Melvin has been in training for the team's top baseball post since he joined the Orioles five years ago. When Frank Robinson accepted a similar job yesterday, the Orioles became the only major-league team with two assistant general managers.

There is one other factor that could affect Hemond's future. His best efforts haven't turned around the Orioles. When Hemond arrived in Baltimore in November 1987, the Orioles were coming off their worst season in decades -- a 95-loss, sixth-place finish in the American League East. Four years later, they are last.

Robinson, who was fired as Orioles manager May 23, already paid the price for the woeful start. Now the klieg lights are shining on others in the Orioles front office, including Hemond. He hasn't turned the Orioles around, but should he be given the opportunity to keep trying?

One knowledgeable judge is Hemond. He has been in baseball for 40 years and a general manager on and off for the past 20. He knows a bang-up job when he sees one. What type of grade would he give himself?

Hemond may be the gentlest man in baseball, a sweet-tempered optimist who appreciates Norman Vincent Peale every bit as much as Cal Ripken. But he isn't at his best responding directly to reporters' questions.

"I do the best I know how at all times," Hemond said. "I also recognize there are times when you are doing your best job and it doesn't look that way."

Some Orioles fans aren't as charitable. Have you listened to the talk shows lately? There aren't too many calls to name the new ballpark after Hemond. More people want to know why the team ERA was over 5.00 recently and why Glenn Davis hasn't knocked in a run in six weeks.

Roland, they are blaming you.

"Really, I'm immune to that," he said. "I don't expose myself to situations that would have a deteriorating effect, like the talk shows. I just don't listen unless we're going well. That's smart, right? I'm not bragging. I'm just saying that's a smart approach, right? When things are going well, get more reinforcement."

Roland, they are blaming you.

"That doesn't bother me. I won't dodge anybody. You won't see any changes in my personality, because I know it goes with the territory."

But Roland . . .

"Before the season is over, the same people may be giving us accolades."

Hemond's future in Baltimore will be in the hands of a few Orioles executives, including team president Larry Lucchino. This week, Lucchino declined to be interviewed on the subject of his general manager's performance or future with the Orioles. Orioles principal owner Eli Jacobs has said he leaves all decisions regarding baseball employees to Lucchino.

Others who have worked with Hemond over the years say he brings talents and, at times, limitations to the job of general manager.

First, assets. Hemond earns his highest grades as a human being. People like him.

"They don't make nicer people than Roland Hemond," said David Dombrowski, general manager of the Montreal Expos, who was an assistant to Hemond with the Chicago White Sox. "He took me from Step 1 in the game. He was always there for me to learn from."

There are no statistics that rank baseball executives by the sports banquets they have attended or the fan letters they have answered. If there were, Hemond would be in the Hall of Fame.

Virtually every fan who writes the Orioles GM receives a personal reply. If the fan answers back, Hemond has been known to follow up with yet another thank-you note. More than one Orioles employee has observed that Hemond is the only baseball man they know who writes thank-you notes to thank-you notes.

He won't even guess how much fan correspondence crosses his desk in a year. "If I say, my superiors might think I am wasting too much time answering letters," he said, laughing.

In the front office, Hemond is a most uplifting presence, turning negatives into positives every 12 seconds. Ask him about the Orioles current problems, and he'll first convince you that there are no problems. Then you will rush to place your order for Orioles World Series tickets.

Melvin, Hemond's latest protege, points to this optimism as a key element in the Orioles' record turnaround of 1989. With Hemond furiously patting backs, the team improved 32 1/2 games.

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