Finding manager more of probe than search

October 02, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Twenty years ago this coming Tuesday, Frank Robinson "interviewed" with the Cleveland Indians and history was made. For the first time, a black man was named manager of a major-league baseball team.

Surely, such an historic move was arrived at after an exhaustive search, intense interrogation, multiple interviews.

Right? Well, not quite.

"I met with them, they asked do you want to manage this ballclub, I said yes," Robinson said. "The whole thing was a five-, 10-minute process."

The man who broke the old boy network was hired in classic old-style baseball fashion.

Two decades later, Robinson is part of a four-man managerial search interviewing panel and is joined by a powerful local banker, a prominent local attorney and a venerable baseball executive.

The panel -- consisting of Robinson, Orioles vice chairman of business and finance Joe Foss, attorney Russell Smouse and general manager Roland Hemond -- interviews candidates for the Orioles' managing vacancy for two to three hours, and discusses the outcomes with Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

By week's end, at least eight candidates will have been put through a first round of interviews. The plan, according to Foss, is to bring back two or three finalists to meet one-on-one with Angelos, Hemond and Robinson.

"I would describe this process as something that's fairly routine in the business world," Foss said.

And fairly unusual in the baseball world.

"This is quite a bit different, yes," Robinson said. "This is a little more in-depth interview than most. And it's different as far as the people we have there to ask questions. It's been very comfortable for all of us, I think. And the main thing is the people we have interviewed have been very comfortable."

Angelos' busy schedule precludes him from sitting in on the first round of lengthy interviews. Smouse, in effect, is pinch hitting for Angelos.

Smouse describes himself as a "good personal professional friend of Peter's for over 20 years. We've tried cases together and shared a lot of thoughts over the years."

A senior lawyer in Angelos' firm, Smouse manages the non-asbestos end of the business. He also has worked on a number of Orioles-related matters, including salary arbitration cases and player contracts.

"This has been the most interesting thing I have done in a very long time," said Smouse, 62. "It's been great fun. I've been a lifelong baseball fan and that covers a lot of years."

Reared in Oakland, Md., as a Pittsburgh Pirates fan and converted to an Orioles fan in 1954, Smouse described the search as a "broad fact-finding mission."

Both Foss and Smouse stressed they do not fancy themselves as anything even remotely resembling baseball experts. Obviously, they defer to Hemond and Robinson in that area.

All men on the panel have stressed one thing. They have not and will not conduct any courtesy interviews.

"I think that is an injustice to the people who would be considered," Foss said. "We don't want to waste our time, or ZTC [that of] the candidates who would come in here. Everyone is a viable candidate. We've taken this process very seriously, spent a lot of time with each candidate. I've got plenty to do and Russ and Frank and Roland have plenty to do without wasting our time conducting courtesy interviews."

What type of questions might Foss ask?

"Oh, for example, making time for the press," he said. "What's your philosophy in dealing with the press? A manager who won't communicate with the press is inconsistent with the philosophy of this ballclub."

What else?

"We want to make sure that our manager is very interested in supporting his community," Foss said. "How do you represent the team on the road? What do you think of the way the players dress on the road?

"The feeling we have is the Orioles represent the ballclub and the city of Baltimore and we expect our players to conduct themselves in a professional manner, dress appropriately, be good ambassadors for this community elsewhere in the country. For example, if a manager said jeans, cutoffs and T-shirts are fine, I don't think that's representative of the image we want to convey."

Thus far, the Orioles have interviewed, in order, Rick Dempsey, Davey Lopes, Bill Virdon, Phil Regan and Elrod Hendricks for the vacancy created when Johnny Oates was fired last Monday.

They are working on setting up interviews for this week with Davey Johnson, Buck Rodgers and Chris Chambliss.

They did not wait to fill the managing position before interviewing a hitting instructor. San Diego Padres hitting coach Merv Rettenmund, a former Orioles outfielder, was interviewed Friday.

But it is the managerial search that has a city captivated, a search headed by Angelos, Hemond and Robinson, with input from Smouse and Foss.

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