New Orioles owner says front office changes to come first

ANGELOS STEPS TO PLATE

October 05, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The ownership group led by Peter G. Angelos officially took control of the Orioles franchise yesterday, but it still is unclear whether that is good news or bad for the front-office hierarchy that has run the club for the past five years.

Angelos applauded the current leadership of the team, but he did nothing to dismiss the possibility that there could be major changes in the decision-making nucleus of the team.

"We will do everything possible to continue all the good work of Eli Jacobs, Larry Lucchino, Roland Hemond and Johnny Oates," Angelos said yesterday at an Oriole Park ceremony to announce the completion of the sale and its unanimous approval by Major League Baseball. "But to say that we will try to improve upon it is only the course of normal human events."

As the team's new managing general partner, Angelos has complete authority over all decisions relating to the operation of the club, so he is in a position to rehire or fire manager Johnny Oates and restructure the front office. He tried to be noncommittal about the likelihood of individual changes, but in a conversation last night, he made no secret of his intention to reorganize the front office.

"There definitely will be a reorganization," Angelos said. "There will be a distinct division between the business side of the team and the baseball side."

That could be good news for Orioles fans, because Angelos has indicated he is ready to spend substantially to improve the on-field talent, but it could turn out to be bad news for certain members of the current management.

The arrival of the Angelos group leaves the Orioles with five executives who have overlapping job descriptions. Lucchino has been acting as chief executive officer of the club since it was owned by Edward Bennett Williams, and has been working closely with general manager Roland Hemond and assistants Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson on the baseball side. Incoming vice chairman William O. DeWitt Jr. is expected to have tremendous influence over baseball-related decisions, which raises the possibility that the chain of command will be streamlined.

The evaluation process begins today, when Angelos moves into the Orioles offices. He said he does not want to get ahead of himself, and does not want to create a feeling of suspense within the organization.

"There has been much speculation in the media about changes that we might put into place," he said. "I think it would be presumptuous to say from the outside, to say that we intend to make changes. Obviously, we have not had the opportunity to make careful analysis of the operation of the club and its guiding group."

The one employee who has been under Angelos' scrutiny, however, is Oates, because he is the one front-office employee whose job performance can be evaluated from the perspective of a fan. He is the only one with a statistical record.

There have been indications that Angelos is considering a change, but his public posture has been very positive toward Oates and the other Orioles executives. Because he was not prepared to announce a decision on any of them, he had to walk a fine line between giving each a vote of confidence and leaving doubt about their futures.

"I don't look at Larry and Johnny Oates and Roland Hemond as candidates for change," Angelos said. "I look at them as individuals who have had a great deal of success and accomplishment. Whether there would be a change or not, there would a kind of careful review and analysis and consideration given to the people involved."

Oates' situation probably will be dealt with first, because the club is under an Oct. 31 deadline to exercise the 1994 option on his contract. One source in the ownership group indicated that Oates probably will be back, but the final decision will be made after Angelos meets with Oates to discuss the future of the team.

Angelos said yesterday that he will spend the next 10 days meeting with Orioles officials and working to familiarize himself with the operation. He indicated during yesterday's news conference that he might take up to 90 days to decide on the makeup of the front office, but said later that it would be in the best interests of the team to have that resolved as quickly as possible.

"It wouldn't be fair to have people in a state of uncertainty for 90 days," he said. "It behooves us to make the decisions we are going to make as quickly as possible for everybody's sake. We owe it to them to move rapidly."

No doubt, Orioles fans will be eager to see the front-office situation clarified so the club can move into the personnel acquisition stage of the off-season, since there is every reason to believe that Angelos will spend freely to improve the club. He reinforced that notion again yesterday when he spelled out his wish list for the winter.

"I'm looking from the outside like everybody else, but on the surface it seems that we need some pitching help and that

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