Melvin's road smoothed by good grooming -- his own

October 22, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

What do a fly and a tree have in common?

For a brief moment two weeks ago, Doug Melvin thought his future hinged on the answer.

The question was part of a grueling six-hour psychological test ,, Melvin took during his second interview with the Texas Rangers.

For once, he was stumped.

"When I think back, it was sort of funny," Melvin said. "But I don't know if I would have thought it was funny if I was still working in Baltimore."

Not to worry -- the Rangers named him general manager.

And now, Melvin might get the last laugh.

He'd report for work at 7 a.m. with the Orioles, beating the custodial crew into the offices. Already, the Rangers are benefiting from his intense preparation, his vast knowledge.

New York Yankees manager Buck Showalter nicknamed Melvin "Scoop" when they were minor-league teammates. The Latin players went further, calling him "Lawyer."

"I think he's been preparing for this for a long, long time," said Lon Babby, the Orioles' former club counsel. "In his mind, he's probably made these decisions a hundred times."

Take his first two weeks on the job.

Melvin, 42, fired manager Kevin Kennedy and farm director Marty Scott two days after taking over. Then, after two managerial candidates failed to jump at interviews, he hired Johnny Oates.

Rash decisions?

Hardly.

Melvin told Kennedy that new GMs who retain managers are only delaying the inevitable -- and that once such managers are fired, they frequently find it difficult to get another job.

As examples, Melvin cited Cal Ripken Sr. in Baltimore, Butch Hobson in Boston and Buck Rodgers in California.

Kennedy probably scoffed at the argument.

But six days later, he had another job.

Melvin was equally decisive in choosing Kennedy's replacement. Oates was the only candidate he interviewed. Buddy Bell balked at the offer. Dave Duncan responded too slowly.

Rather than contact other candidates for the sake of appearance, Melvin went with his gut instinct and picked Oates.

As an assistant GM with the Orioles, he never had the chance to be so bold.

"Someone has to make decisions, and someone has to be held accountable for it," Melvin said. "I don't have a fear of being held accountable, if you've gotten good input and the decision is well thought-out."

With Melvin, the decisions are always well thought-out -- so much so that Rangers president Tom Schieffer said he shouldn't worry about the fly and the tree.

Indeed, Schieffer must confess:

"I don't know about that myself."

Testing his patience

The psychological test, Schieffer said, did not play a major role in Melvin's hiring, which was a good thing, since Melvin wasn't sure he identified the proper continent for Saudi Arabia.

"I should have played more Trivial Pursuit," he said.

The test -- three hours of multiple-choice questions, then a three-hour interview -- was the kind disdained by many in baseball.

A woman from a psychological management firm sat with a stopwatch, staring at Melvin, timing some of his responses.

"For me, it was a test of patience," he said. "I'm sitting there thinking, 'Keep your cool, don't show you're upset.' "

Peter Angelos didn't want him.

But the Rangers did.

He came all the way from Chatham, Ontario -- Ferguson Jenkins' hometown.

His passion for the game stemmed in part from a simple Canadian fascination with America's national pastime.

His high school didn't have a baseball team, but Melvin quit hockey when he was 13 to concentrate on the sport. He eventually pitched six years in the minors, peaking at Double-A with the Yankees.

"I knew for sure he was going to stay in baseball -- someway, somehow," said former Orioles coach Jerry Narron, Melvin's former minor-league teammate and roommate.

"When he was in A ball and Double-A, he knew every guy in the league. He was scouting players then, saying this guy was going the major leagues, this guy wasn't."

Narron joked that Melvin was such an excellent judge of talent, he quit the game in 1978 to pitch batting practice and coordinate advance scouting reports for the Yankees.

That's how Melvin began his front-office career -- at the bottom. He spent six years with the Yankees, then eight with the Orioles. Always, his diligence stood out.

His father, Art, was a mechanic for a trucking company. Melvin said he was never late for work, never came home early, and called in sick maybe five times in 37 years.

Those closest to Melvin with the Orioles noticed the same work ethic -- even if it was lost on Angelos, the team's owner.

"He used to sit up in the GM's box with reams of papers and scouting reports and newspaper clippings," Babby said. "He was always working.

He'd be watching the game, and reading the whole time."

Two months ago, Melvin had such a bad case of laryngitis, Lee MacPhail IV -- the Orioles' assistant director of player development -- said he sounded "like 'Scarface.' "

MacPhail and others pleaded with him to take a day off.

Even then, with his Orioles career fading, Melvin declined.

Crunching numbers

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