Frank Robinson deserves to be the Orioles general manager, but not if it means losing Doug Melvin. If Peter Angelos allows Melvin to leave for the Boston Red Sox, it will be a 10-year mistake, one that makes the failure to sign Will Clark look like a mere blip on the waiver wire.
The possibility of Melvin's becoming Red Sox GM shouldn't even exist, but Boston owner John Harrington reportedly will ask the Orioles for permission to speak with the 41-year-old assistant GM. Angelos' response should be to name Melvin GM immediately -- and not just a puppet GM, either.
That supposedly was the plan a month ago, but Angelos delayed his front-office restructuring, leaving the club in this tenuous position. Melvin is under contract, so the Orioles can deny him permission to interview with Boston. However, teams rarely block employees from seeking a better position with another club.
It's a common courtesy -- baseball's tampering rule would be suffocating otherwise -- yet it doesn't apply to lateral moves. That's why the Montreal Expos refused GM Dan Duquette's request to talk with the Red Sox. Ethically, the Orioles couldn't do the same to Melvin without naming him GM.
Even then, Melvin probably would want the opportunity to choose, but it would be tough luck. At least he'd have the job he always wanted. Lacking the same leverage, Robinson would remain assistant GM -- unless, of course, Angelos decided to promote him, and lose Melvin to an AL East rival.
That would make no sense -- Roland Hemond, 64, and Robinson, 58, would become the highest-ranking members of the front office, with no other GM candidates in the organization. But it could happen, even if Angelos tries to thwart Melvin. No one could stop Melvin from quitting and taking the Boston job.
All this should have been anticipated on Nov. 9, when Boston promoted Lou Gorman and announced plans to name a GM. The Red Sox first asked permission to talk with Melvin last year, when they had an opening for an assistant GM. Former club president Larry Lucchino refused, but if Boston had interest once, why not again?
An experienced owner would have acted right then, especially when he was already on record as saying that Melvin probably would be GM. But Angelos chose to put off his decision while the front office focused on player acquisitions. The extent of his blunder will become clearer in the coming days.
At this point, Melvin probably would prefer Boston. It's not just that his wife, Ellen, is from Connecticut. It's not even that the Boston job looks thoroughly attractive, with the power struggle in the ownership resolved, a quality front office in place and the resources to build a contender available.
Justified or not, almost every member of the Orioles front office fears that Angelos might become another George Steinbrenner, meddling without expertise, acting as his own GM. Melvin worked for Steinbrenner in New York before joining the Orioles. Under such an owner, it's impossible to be a strong GM.
If Angelos wants to dispel the notion that he's George II, he can start by kicking Hemond upstairs, the way the Red Sox just did with Gorman. Hemond isn't always a soft touch, but he's the perfect GM for a power-hungry owner. That's why the late Edward Bennett Williams hired him.
Williams was one of the most brilliant men in the country, but he knew nothing about baseball. That didn't stop him from terrorizing Hemond's predecessor, Hank Peters. Lee Lacy, Fred Lynn, Alan Wiggins -- they were all Williams inventions. Angelos, like Williams, is a lawyer. He'd be foolish to be the same type of owner.
Think of the most successful GMs -- John Schuerholz, Pat Gillick, Lee Thomas. Each acts with minimal interference from his owner. Harrington seems prepared to give his new GM that type of latitude. Angelos claims he will also, but virtually every member of the front office wanted Clark, and he said no.
The solution is simple -- give Melvin the job, expand Robinson's duties and leave them alone. Hemond still would be valuable, but in a different way. He could serve as Angelos' eyes and ears. He also could keep performing the public-relations functions of a GM -- banquets, caravans, talk shows. That's what Boston is doing with Gorman.
Obviously, if the Red Sox don't pursue Melvin, then Angelos is back to Square One. But all it would mean is that he got lucky. Even with Robinson, the mere prospect of Melvin's leaving should be enough of a scare for the new owner. Unless, of course, he thinks he can do it all himself.