O's make wrong turn, pass up road to future

October 11, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

The Orioles will regret the decision to let Doug Melvin leave.

They will look back one day and find it incredible, even embarrassing, that Peter Angelos chased him off.

It's a mistake that will resonate into the next century, hurting the ballclub where it matters most -- on the field.

Melvin could have run the Orioles for the next decade or longer. He is the management version of a high draft pick. He is just 42, yet well-schooled in the ways of baseball. He understands that scouting, drafting and nurturing talent are the ABCs. He understands that patience is a necessity. He is a calm, reasoned thinker, yet he has a twinkle in his eye that suggests he'll gamble now and then, as every successful executive must.

It was easy to close your eyes and envision the Orioles of Doug Melvin as a sound, intelligent organization. For the next decade. If the owner would let him do his thing, of course. Which is a big if.

Whether Melvin fulfills that promise as the general manager of the Texas Rangers remains to be seen. The Rangers have a sad-sack history. Making them a winner won't be easy. But that's not the point. The point is that Melvin has considerable promise, more than just about any other young executive in the game, and Angelos just discarded him like a worn-out glove.

Not smart.

Yes, Angelos had an extremely tough call to make, choosing between Melvin and Frank Robinson as Roland Hemond's eventual replacement. It might turn out to be a win-win choice. Robinson has a sharp baseball mind. Although he was an unsuccessful manager (.476 winning percentage in 1,552 games), he might have the boldness and wiles to excel as a GM. We're going to find out.

But Angelos should have picked Melvin. Robinson, 17 years older, will be 60 next August. It's the rare executive who has the job beyond 65. Hiring another general manager in five years is not exactly the way to provide stability.

Furthermore, Melvin already has gone to school on the fundamentals of building an organization. The Orioles' minor-league system was a certifiable disaster when Edward Bennett Williams gave him control of it six years ago. He turned it around.

Melvin just had more experience in the nuances of front-office management. Why, he had already pulled off a clever trade, stealing Joe Orsulak from the Pirates for nothing when the

Orioles were between general managers in 1987.

But the choice between Melvin and Robinson came down to one item -- Angelos' favor -- and Melvin lost. The owner didn't like him. Melvin was effectively frozen out of the front office by the middle of last season. Don't ask why. Whatever the reason was, you can be sure it didn't make sense.

Angelos doesn't like a lot of people who work for him, of course. There has been a steady turnover of front-office personnel in the past year. That Robinson might escape such disfavor is hardly surprising. Angelos, a fan, is going to be predisposed to former players.

That Melvin wound up frozen out is an unfortunate ending to his career with the Orioles, which was full of good work. But that's how the world operates these days, isn't it? If you don't own the company, you can only hope that your new boss likes you a little. Melvin's didn't.

In any event, Melvin is thrilled now, no doubt -- not just because he gets to be the boss somewhere, but because he gets to escape Baltimore, where there are ominous signs. Like a lot of smart people in baseball, he is wondering just how much anyone other than Angelos will be involved in the Orioles' important decisions. Remember the famous Angelos quote: "I'm the complete and supreme boss."

It's possible that Melvin and Angelos simply weren't meant to be, much in the same fashion that Johnny Oates and Angelos weren't. Melvin is still young enough that he doesn't need to compromise on the way he thinks a ballclub should be run. Any executive will need to compromise to work for Angelos. Ask Hemond.

Robinson is going to try to run the team in such circumstances, and here's hoping he gets the chance to do what he wants. He deserves the opportunity to prove himself as an administrator.

Meanwhile, Melvin will move to Texas and attempt to end a pattern of losing that has existed since the franchise left Washington 22 years ago. The Orioles will be a little less intelligent now that he is gone.

lTC In a perfect world, Angelos would have kept both. He would have made Robinson the general manager now and used a big salary and a title to talk Melvin into waiting in line for a few more years. That was impossible, though. Melvin was just too attractive to too many other franchises. The Orioles would have had to make him a general manager to keep him. And Robinson probably would have left at that point.

You'd have hated to see it go down like that, but losing Melvin now is a bigger blow than losing Robinson would have been.

Oh, well. Maybe Robinson will shine in the job. The most worrisome aspect of Melvin's departure, really, isn't so much that the Orioles lost him, but that Angelos didn't even make an effort to keep him. As the old saying goes, that's not the way to run a railroad.

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