CLEVELAND -- The Orioles asked for and were denied permission to interview Cleveland assistant general manager Dan O'Dowd for the possibility of hiring him as general manager -- the first hard indication that current Orioles GM Roland Hemond's job is in jeopardy.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos called Indians owner Richard J. Jacobs about a week ago to ask to talk to O'Dowd, regarded as one of the game's top young executives. Jacobs refused because O'Dowd has a contract that runs through 1998, with an option for 1999.
O'Dowd, contacted yesterday, confirmed that Jacobs told him Thursday night that he had refused the Orioles' request. "A call was made asking for permission, and permission was denied, and beyond that I have no comment," O'Dowd said.
Reached at his home last night, Hemond said: "I have no clue about that. I'd probably be the last one to hear."
Angelos said: "I have addressed this before: the organization's personnel will be evaluated after the season, from top to bottom, as they are every year."
Baseball employees under contract are, almost as a rule, given permission to talk to another team about a job if the move is a promotion. For example, current Orioles manager Phil Regan was under contract as a pitching coach with the Indians a year ago, but was allowed to leave for a better job.
Jacobs could not be reached for comment yesterday, on his reasons for denying the Orioles' permission. Cleveland GM John Hart said, "This is an ownership call. One of the things he wants here is stability. It's important. We've got a lot of guys under multi-year contracts. Stability is an issue. It's part of our program. I know that was explained to me when I came on here."
Is it possible that Jacobs is preparing for the time when he may want to promote Hart, and replace him with O'Dowd? Hart, under contract through 1999 with options for 2000 and 2001, said, "I'm not planning on moving up, out, down, anywhere. Our owner at some point might address that."
It does not bode well for Hemond that the Orioles asked to talk to O'Dowd. At times this season, his dismissal after this season has seemed to be a fait accompli for several reasons: His contract is set to expire; the team is playing below expectation, and Hemond was hired under previous ownership.
O'Dowd worked for the Orioles for five seasons before joining the Indians in January 1988. His primary responsibilities have been directing the club's minor-league system and working alongside Hart in developing the major-league club, which has become perhaps the best in baseball. In 1992, the Indians were named the Organization of the Year by Baseball America.
The Orioles' pursuit of O'Dowd could have some bearing on Regan, who knows O'Dowd well from his year in the Cleveland organization; if O'Dowd is hired, Regan's chances for staying for the second year of his two-year contract may improve.
If the Orioles continue to search for an up-and-coming GM, they might have interest in San Diego's Randy Smith, who is cut out of a similar mold as O'Dowd.
In 1993, he became the youngest GM in the history of baseball at the age of 29, and ushered the small-market Padres through a fire sale, trading All-Stars Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff at the behest of ownership. The Padres are playing about .500 ball now, and are rich in young pitching prospects.
The Padres have a 1996 option on Smith's contract, set to expire at the end of October. But a split may be inevitable: Smith and Padres CEO Larry Lucchino have not seen eye to eye on many moves since Lucchino and new owner John Moores assumed control of the team last fall.