Orioles' downfall is a puzzle, but not all pieces fit


June 16, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

I know it's the weekend, but I've got a favor to ask. Put on your thinking caps -- all right, use an Orioles cap if it's all you've got -- and try to solve a little puzzle. Here goes:

* The Orioles fire manager Frank Robinson because the team is losing.

* Then they extend the contract of general manager Roland Hemond -- because the team is losing?

I don't get it, do you? Is there some obscure logic involved, or is this simply a cosmic joke, like the enduring popularity of Arsenio Hall?

The easy answer is that the sad state of the Orioles must have been all Robinson's fault. But there's a little problem here with the record. Seems there's incontrovertible evidence suggesting one of only two conclusions: that either it wasn't all Robinson's fault or that John Oates is just as bad a manager as Robinson, in the revisionist view, is supposed to have been.

Because, after yesterday's game, the Orioles are 8-14 under Oates, which is only slightly better than Robinson's 13-24.

See what I mean? The team is performing as well -- actually, as poorly -- for one manager as for the other.

This leads me to believe there's another problem because, having watched him in action these three weeks, I think Oates is a pretty good manager. He knows the game. He makes the right moves. He couldn't have offended too many players yet. So maybe the team's performance bears some relation to the on-field personnel. That's just a wild, wacky guess. But it seems to me that without Glenn Davis and without Ben McDonald, with Jeff Ballard at 4-7, with seven players on the disabled list, the Orioles are not underachieving. At last check, they were 13th in runs scored and last in ERA. That's how you get to be a last-place team.

Is this Hemond's fault? Maybe. He's the man in charge of putting together the 25-man roster. Although he has been hamstrung by what apologists would call a prudent owner, Hemond would be the first to tell you that the on-field Orioles are his product. I hate to say it, but this is not exactly like announcing a new line of BMWs.

Meaning, I wouldn't have rushed into extending his contract. It isn't as if the Orioles had to worry about losing him to someone else. As hot properties go, Hemond does not exactly put you in mind of even a balding Kevin Costner.

Not only that, he's standing in the way of the Orioles' two assistant general managers -- Robinson (remember him?) and Doug Melvin. And, there's a great chance that somebody will attempt to hire one or both by the time Hemond's new contract expires at the end of the 1993 season.

(This is probably as good a spot as any to point out that the Orioles now have Hemond locked up for longer than they have Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis combined. Priorities, anyone?)

That doesn't mean Hemond should be fired. The Orioles have to like him, if just for his Norman Vincent Peale approach. No matter how bad things are with the Orioles, Hemond always seems to think they're getting better. For him, the glass is 1/16th full. That's great for inspirational speeches, and it's a wonderful world view, but does it help you build a ballclub? In any case, waiting until the end of the season to figure where Hemond fits in -- he could have been reassigned -- might have been, well, prudent.

Besides, why would a team that is supposedly being sold rush to burden itself contractually to anyone? It's another puzzle. And the beauty of any Orioles puzzle is that nobody who has the answers will ever, ever share them with you.

There are some questions worth asking, too. For instance, how can a team carry only four outfielders when one of them is first baseman David Segui and another is the less than Ty Cobb-like Brady Anderson? Why is backup infielder Juan Bell (hitting .109) on the team instead of a fifth outfielder? Why is he on the team, period?

Why is it taking so long to deal Craig Worthington? Isn't it obvious to everyone that Leo Gomez is the third baseman of the present and probably of the future? Can't the Orioles get some needed help -- an outfielder, a pitcher -- by trading Worthington?

What the Orioles cannot afford to do is simply sit still. We now know that firing the manager was not the answer. We're waiting for the Orioles to find more creative ways -- say, spending money -- to improve a team that has managed to fall to the bottom of what is easily the worst division in baseball.

Where does that leave matters? Well, check the standings, if you have the stomach for it. And then tell me how we're supposed to feel knowing that the same management team that led the Orioles to the basement remains in charge of leading them out.

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