As Orioles get down to business, Joe Foss becomes star of scaled-down staff

April 01, 1994|By John Steadman

Changes were inevitable when the new administration, upon paying a record $173 million for the fiscal right and prideful responsibility of owning the Baltimore Orioles, moved its operation into place. The same old game plan wasn't going to be acceptable. The team had an awkward super-structure with more vice presidents (7) than starting pitchers.

Only two of the former vice presidents remain, but no longer carry such impressive-sounding designations that were, in reality, empty titles. Roland Hemond remains as general manager, which is important enough in itself, and Janet Marie Smith is now director of planning and development.

The other Orioles vice presidents either resigned or were asked to move on to enter another line of work.

From the reality of it all, it would have been difficult for the Orioles to continue with a superfluous lineup of vice presidents when, in truth, they didn't have a president. Peter Angelos, as the chief investor in the deal, refrained from awarding himself the position. Instead, he's listed as chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

The Orioles, to tighten the chain of command, have scaled down internally -- which makes for good business sense. Vice presidents no longer stumble into each other. Job responsibilities are more delineated and the staff less encumbered.

To bring about an effective reduction and re-shape the operation, Angelos appointed Joe Foss, a man of exceptional intelligence, perception and articulation, as the club's vice chairman of business and finance.

Foss, 46, comes from an extensive background in banking and, when he lived in his native Minneapolis, was involved with the financing of sports franchises. Foss graduated from Bishop Cretin High School in St. Paul, where he was taught by the Christian Brothers (the same religious order that has operated Baltimore's Calvert Hall for 150 years), and then St. Thomas College.

Angelos decided the proper design for the Orioles was to establish an executive side for business, making it separate and distinct from the baseball operation, where Hemond calls the signals. In an informal count, the club may be getting along with 12 to 15 fewer front-office employees.

As to the elimination of vice presidents, Foss offers this explanation: "The titles we have now are more functional and not what might be termed corporate headings. We'll continue to refine the structure to make sure it performs efficiently."

It was this time a year ago when Angelos, preparing a bid for the Orioles, contacted Foss, then chief executive officer of First America Bank. They had known each other since 1990 when Angelos and his law firm were transacting major business with First America. Angelos told Foss what he wanted to do in readying a proposal to buy the Orioles and wanted his assistance.

"The bank was in the process of being sold and Peter asked me if I would be willing to join him in the effort," recalls Foss. "From the Thursday before Memorial Day we began to work in earnest. It became a seven-days-a-week pursuit and, yes, I was with him when he made the acquisition late last summer."

Foss was asked for his reaction to Angelos the man. He responded by describing him as "aggressive, extremely fair and honest. There's no hidden agenda with him. He has enormous sensitivity and an ability to make an excellent read on people."

Foss says his working relationship is ideal. He is comfortable when disagreeing with Angelos but fully realizes and respects his right to make the final decision since he's the team owner. Joe is aware the Orioles' operation is going to be different but believes what has taken place will prove effective.

"I'm anxious to see what it takes to operate during the schedule," says Foss. "You do it one way in December and January, the off-season, but now the focus changes. I'm telling myself it's going to be a lot of fun when the bats and balls come into play Opening Day. The business side and baseball aspect are two unique specialties. I have a great dialogue with Roland Hemond, but I wouldn't dare try to tell him what to do in making a player trade."

Joe Foss has the kind of ability and understanding to make an important contribution to the business part of the franchise. It's obvious Angelos has entrusted him with important responsibilities. Even though a front-office rookie, the way he has so far fielded the position demonstrates exceptional aptitude and organizational brilliance.

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