It's time to cut O's 3-headed GM down to size

Ken Rosenthal

October 05, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

Guess what? Orioles general manager Roland Hemond just earned himself another contract extension. But rather than ensure stability, the move would signal the breakup of the club's front office, presuming it isn't already imminent.

The arrangement obviously is working, but it was never meant to be long-term. Hemond, 62, still has another year left on his contract. Assistant GMs Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson are no less restless than before. Something must give.

Either the Orioles lose the budding executive responsible for several key acquisitions, or the Hall of Fame legend on the fast track to becoming baseball's first black general manager.

One working for the other? Not when each believes the job is rightfully his. It's one or the other. No matter who leaves, no matter when it happens, the front office will suffer.

Hemond freely acknowledges that his success is due partly to the input of Melvin and Robinson from below, and the prodding of club president Larry Lucchino from above. It's a delicate balance of egos, but somehow, the job gets done. Now, if only the group could stay intact.

The odds aren't good.

As many as six clubs figure to change GMs this winter. Melvin, 40, would be a strong candidate for any vacancy. Many in the game perceive him as the mastermind behind the Orioles' operation.

His departure would position Robinson as the Orioles' next GM, and that would be that. Melvin, however, still lacks the high profile many clubs require. It stands to reason that both he and Robinson will be back -- but only for one more year.

Neither Melvin nor Robinson wants to be an assistant GM forever. The difference is, Melvin has time on his side. Robinson, 57, would prefer to become a GM before he's a senior citizen. He might quit if Hemond gets another extension.

In that case, Melvin would be set.

The Orioles, of course, don't want to make so difficult a choice -- which is how Hemond survived a 95-loss season in the first place. Now the club is stronger than at any point of his five-year tenure. The man remains energetic. He's not going anywhere.

Indeed, for all the conflicting emotions Hemond inspires among Baltimore fans, he would have been a lock for his fourth Executive of the Year award -- and second in four seasons -- if the Orioles had won the division.

As it stands, the team improved by 22 games, the 11th biggest jump in American League history. Three other Hemond clubs rank in the top 10 -- the '71 White Sox (23 games), '77 White Sox (26) and, first and foremost, the '89 Orioles (32 1/2 ).

That team was lucky. This team was good. Indeed, there's no arguing what the front office accomplished, particularly in rebuilding a pitching staff that last season posted the highest ERA (4.69) in the major leagues.

The team ERA this season (3.80) was the club's best since '84. It wasn't only that the young pitchers matured. For a change, Hemond and Co. turned aggressive, cleaning up the mess they made the previous year.

The record will show that five new pitchers -- Rick Sutcliffe, Alan Mills, Storm Davis, Pat Clements and Craig Lefferts -- combined for 35 of the Orioles' 89 wins, or almost 40 percent.

The price was $2 million for Sutcliffe as a free agent, $25,000 for Clements on a waiver claim and five players -- backup catcher Bob Melvin and four minor leaguers -- for Davis, Mills and Lefferts.

Granted, Davis earned over $2 million, and Lefferts arrived in September with a similar salary. But with fans streaming to Camden Yards, club owner Eli Jacobs apparently gave Hemond more financial leeway. Why, he even signed a 70-RBI man named Cal Ripken.

Hemond, of course, is an expert at working under a tight budget -- he originally signed Todd Frohwirth, Chito Martinez, Tim Hulett, Mark McLemore and Sam Horn as minor-league free agents. He can't dig up all the talent himself, so he wisely relies on subordinates for help.

Doug Melvin traded two minor leaguers for Joe Orsulak in between the firing of Hank Peters and hiring of Hemond in November 1987. He also is credited with the Frohwirth signing, and the acquisition of Mills from the Yankees last spring.

Robinson joined the front office only after getting fired as manager in May 1991, so he's still learning on the job. His trade of Craig Worthington for two minor leaguers was a push, but he also helped lay the groundwork for the Lefferts deal.

As with Glenn Davis, that trade seemed like a good idea at the time, but just didn't work out. You never know in this game. Who would have guessed the front office's main blunder would be projecting Ripken and Davis as productive 3-4 hitters?

Likewise, who would have guessed Brady Anderson would become an All-Star before Steve Finley, when Houston wanted no part of Anderson in the Davis package? These are the things that make GMs look like idiots one year, geniuses the next.

Forget Eddie Murray, Phil Bradley and Mickey Tettleton. Consider Anderson, Mike Devereaux and Chris Hoiles. Suddenly, Hemond is back in the genius category. The question now is, how long before his support system crumbles?

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