Minor focus, or major ambition?

November 01, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

On his first day on the job for the Orioles, Syd Thrift sat in his new, mostly unfurnished office at Camden Yards yesterday. And talked.

In a lively five-minute monologue, Thrift touched on topics as different as fishing the Chesapeake Bay and the scientific approach to stealing a base.

He wrapped it up with an assessment of how he might fit into the Orioles' ever-evolving front office.

Nicely, he predicted.

"I certainly would not want anyone here to have any uneasiness because of me being here," Thrift said in a quiet drawl.

"I represent the opposite of that. In my whole life, the job I have enjoyed most is helping, supporting and encouraging people."

Though the sentiments appear sincere, they are not yet embraced by all of Thrift's new Orioles co-workers. Yesterday, more than a few were speculating what, if anything, Thrift's hiring portends for the club's veteran baseball staff, led by general manager Roland Hemond and assistant GM Frank Robinson.

On the surface, it should mean little. As director of player development, Thrift takes over the Orioles' minor-league system, a job that has been open since Doug Melvin left to become Texas Rangers general manager last month. On the organizational chart, he reports to both Hemond and Robinson.

But Thrift has credentials most farm directors don't. He has been in baseball for more than 30 years and has functioned as a general manager of two major-league teams. Thrift even has written a book -- "The World According to Syd," -- a literary feat few minor-league executives can match.

Those accomplishments -- plus Thrift's reputation as somebody who has taken at least his fair share of credit for his team's successes -- have led some in the front office to whisper about whether his ambitions reach beyond minor-league ballparks in Bowie and Frederick.

Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss, who led the search committee that chose Thrift, isn't one of them. He says the new player development director knows exactly what's expected of him.

"He is being hired to direct and develop successful players within our organization," said Foss.

"But to the extent the general manager has questions about other players that may be available [from other clubs] and might want to get the judgment of somebody with [Thrift's] background, of course, those experiences are valuable."

For their part, Robinson and Hemond are saying positive and welcoming things about their new colleague. Still, in their words there is a sense this is more than just another minor-league administrator the Orioles have hired.

"I don't know him as well as some people do, but I know his reputation somewhat," Robinson said.

That includes Thrift's highs and lows as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In four years, he built the club into a proven division winner, but was fired, in part, because he couldn't get along with the club's president, Carl Barger.

When Thrift left the Pirates, Barger summed up the ex-GM's contributions, saying: "Syd wasn't interested in being an important part of the organization. He wanted to be the organization."

Robinson said he would see for himself.

"[Thrift's reputation] really doesn't concern me," he said. "I have always had to battle a reputation. I am a believer in allowing people to come into an organization and judge them on what I see and hear. He will get that same benefit."

Hemond said he thought Thrift only wants to do the job he was hired to do.

"At this stage of his career, he's excited about it," he said.

And Hemond says he isn't worried for his own job. "I never feel threatened by anyone," he said. "If you feel threatened, that means you are not confident about your own capabilities."

For Thrift, the issue appears simple.

"I have never really had a problem doing my job," he said. "All I bring here is someone trying to bring minor-league player development to a different level."

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