Orioles uncover meaty scraps, but no junkyard dogs

John Steadman

August 11, 1993|By John Steadman

There by the side of the road, with a maze of entangled woods growing all around, is a dilapidated place of business dealing in broken, used and depressed merchandise. On display is a collection of old tires, washtubs, rusting radiators, hubcaps, transmissions, bicycles without handlebars and other second-hand items for sale or barter.

It might well be the Hemond, Melvin and Robinson Junkyard, which has a more important operation when it trades under the formal baseball name of Baltimore Orioles, but the purpose is the same. The three of them, Roland Hemond, Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson, are masters of salvage. They take discards, mostly the kind other organizations don't want, and offer them a chance at rehabilitation and, ultimately, a place in the lineup.

Check the standings in the Eastern Division of the American League, and the position of the Orioles is a credit to the decision-making ability of general manager Hemond and assistant general managers Melvin and Robinson to see something others don't recognize in broken-down, worn-out, fringe-type players that have been rejected elsewhere.

More than half the roster -- 17 by actual count -- came in deals, free-agent signings and waiver claims. The overall philosophy of the Orioles under owner Eli Jacobs was a good one -- i.e., don't pay box-car salaries for players merely because they're available, have a resume and look good in the lobby.

Maybe Jacobs realized growing up in Newton, Mass., not far from Fenway Park, that it's impossible to buy a pennant. Tom Yawkey, the late owner of the Boston Red Sox, spent virtually his entire adult life trying to spend whatever it took to win championships. The Red Sox qualified for the World Series in 1946, 1967 and 1975, during the 43 years he directed the franchise, but the overall Red Sox results never justified the exorbitant expenditures.

Under Jacobs, the Orioles were fiscally responsible in an era when other clubs, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees, to mention a few, were throwing dollars to the four winds. It has always been easy to sign players when money is no option. That doesn't take ability, just access to an open checkbook.

That the Orioles have been successful, despite exercising restraint in the marketplace, is a testimonial to the combined abilities of Hemond, Melvin and Robinson, plus a scouting organization that doesn't know what a slump is. There's an element of good fortune involved, no question.

But, as Branch Rickey, the grand philosopher, once remarked, "Luck is the residue of hard work." And Hemond, Melvin and Robinson have certainly concentrated on the job at hand and deserve plaudits for what has been accomplished.

If what they were doing wasn't working, getting the most for their money, they would be on waivers, too. They would be summarily fired and told to find another occupation. How do you project that two retread pitchers, Fernando Valenzuela and Jamie Moyer, have won more than a dozen games between them?

Here's the boxscore on how the current Orioles were acquired:

Amateur free-agent drafts: Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Gregg Olson, Jeffrey Hammonds, Arthur Rhodes, David Segui, Jack Voigt, Jeff Tackett, Brad Pennington, Cal Ripken (pre-dating Hemond, Melvin and Robinson).

Trades: Harold Baines, Mark Williamson, Chris Hoiles, Brady Anderson, Alan Mills, Mike Devereaux.

Professional free-agent drafts: Harold Reynolds, Todd Frohwirth, Tim Hulett, Mark McLemore, Fernando Valenzuela, Rick Sutcliffe, Jamie Moyer, Mark Parent.

Waivers: Jim Poole.

Undrafted free agent: Leo Gomez.

Rule V Draft: Sherman Obando.

In every aspect, especially in the area of free-agent signings, both professional and amateur, the Orioles have demonstrated sharp judgment. Of course, Hemond, Melvin and Robinson are no better than the scouting reports in front of them -- which emphasizes how important it is that men in the field know where the prospects are to be found and how to evaluate them.

The Orioles have spent money, more than some rivals, not at much as others, but in the reclaiming business have created a reputation for effectiveness. It hasn't all been junkyard recycling. They've certainly gotten value received in a precarious business while spending the club's money as if it were their own.

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