Hemond's long week not short on drama

April 09, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said weeks ago that it was going to be like this once the strike ended, hours of negotiations and trade talks and nights of overpowering nervousness.

After signing free-agent pitchers Kevin Brown, Doug Jones and Jesse Orosco yesterday, absorbing the stress of the first week seemed worthwhile. But as it happened, it was tough on Hemond and the Orioles' front office.

.` A review of the week that was:

MONDAY: Hemond's week began with a surprise. Early in the afternoon, he received a call from agent Scott Boras, who represents Brown. Through the early fall and into December, Hemond had expressed an interest in the former Texas right-hander. Brown passed a physical, and new manager Phil Regan agreed he would be a great addition.

But Brown wanted a five-year contract, something Hemond did not want to give him. Talks with Brown and Boras ended in December.

On Monday, though, Boras called. Brown wanted to play in Baltimore, Boras said, and he would be willing to play for a one-year contract, at the same salary he played for in 1994. Hemond was pleasantly surprised that Brown's contract demand would be so radically altered.

Later that night, Hemond returned to negotiations with New York Mets left-handed closer John Franco. In February, the Orioles believed that they had just about clinched a two-year deal with Franco. But now the Mets were pushing hard to re-sign Franco, who seemed to be wavering.

TUESDAY: Hemond met with Regan and assistant general manager Frank Robinson in the afternoon. Together, they called Franco on a speaker phone. Franco, a native New Yorker, started talking about how much his wife wanted to stay in the city, how hard it would be to enroll his kids in another school system. Franco said the Orioles were still in the running and that he would sleep on his decision, but to Regan it sounded as if Franco was graciously letting them down easy.

Robinson was thinking along those lines as well. "Well," Robinson said to Hemond when the call ended, "he's going back with the Mets."

Regan returned to his hotel that night to find messages from Hemond and team counsel Russell Smouse. He called Hemond, who told him to call Smouse for some big news. Wow, Regan thought, we got Franco.

In fact, Brown had agreed to terms.

"I was kind of shocked," Regan said.

However, Hemond didn't want word to leak out, because if it did, the Rangers could offer Brown arbitration by the midnight Friday deadline, thereby getting a draft pick from the Orioles.

WEDNESDAY: Regan walked into Hemond's office and Hemond dialed Franco again. It was 8:08 a.m., and the phone woke Franco.

"How did you sleep last night?" Hemond asked.

"Not too good," Franco said. "I've decided to stay home."

Later that afternoon, Hemond, Robinson and Regan sat around the office, thinking of other possible closers. They talked about Mike Jackson and Mike Fetters, and making a trade. Hemond wanted to sign a free agent, so he wouldn't have to trade any prospects.

Regan encouraged Hemond to call Willie Sanchez, the agent for reliever Doug Jones. Sanchez told the Orioles he had an offer from Cleveland, and he needed to respond within 24 hours.

Hemond asked Sanchez to fax the offer to his office, and within 30 minutes he had the numbers in hand. They asked Sanchez to call Jones and ask him about the possibility of playing in Baltimore.

THURSDAY: This is what Jones said, according to Sanchez: Either get me to the Orioles or Japan. That sounded great to Hemond, who again spoke with Smouse and formulated an offer: a $1 million base salary, plus incentives. The Indians' final offer would be a $700,000 base. By Thursday morning, Jones, too, was locked up.

But Hemond told his employees that secrecy was paramount. This could not get out, because if it did, the Orioles could lose draft picks. Until midnight Friday, they couldn't tell anyone.

FRIDAY: Hemond's nerves jangled through Thursday night, and

all day Friday. It was, he said yesterday, a very long day. He did make progress in negotiations with Orosco (which would culminate Saturday afternoon).

He began to think that no one knew -- until Friday night, when his hotel room phone began ringing. Reporters wanted to confirm rumors of imminent signings. Hemond demurred.

Hemond watched television, hoping to kill time, hoping to relax. He turned on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," and he saw an Orioles logo flash on the screen; they talked of a soon-to-be published report that Brown and Jones would sign with the Orioles.

Hemond's anxiety increased tenfold. What if, Hemond thought, Texas general manager Doug Melvin saw the report and decided to offer Brown arbitration at the last minute, in the hope that Brown would sign with the Orioles and the Rangers would get a draft pick?

NB Hemond called his wife, Margo. "I'm on edge now," he told her.

SATURDAY: He waited nervously for midnight Friday, constantly checking the time. The hour came and went, and at 12:05 a.m. yesterday, Roland Hemond dialed Major League Baseball's central office, to find out, for sure, whether Brown and Jones were offered arbitration.

No, he was told, they weren't. At that moment, Brown and Jones became, for all practical purposes, property of the Orioles.

Hemond hung up the phone, relieved. He considered calling Regan, thought better of it, and then went to bed. For the first time in three days, he slept soundly.

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