Give Angelos an error for O'Dowd play

September 10, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CLEVELAND -- As many people as Peter Angelos fires, you'd think by now he'd get it right.

Uh, maybe next time.

Roland Hemond is under contract for the rest of the season, but Angelos already is trying to hire his successor as general manager.

The word is out, now that Cleveland owner Richard Jacobs has denied the Orioles permission to interview Indians assistant GM Dan O'Dowd.

It's typical Angelos.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

Last year, when it was reported that the Orioles had requested permission to interview Tony La Russa, Angelos had to fire Johnny Oates the next day.

That, at least, happened in the off-season. This is different. This is Hemond's 45th year in baseball, and he's not even getting a dignified exit.

Hemond must go, everyone knows that. But must he endure a public humiliation? He is a gentleman. He helped rebuild the Orioles from virtually nothing. He doesn't deserve this.

"I have addressed this before: The organization personnel will be evaluated after the season, from top to bottom, as they are every year," Angelos said Friday.

That's a crock. Hemond already has been "evaluated." The only question now is how to handle this as gracefully as possible.

Graceful? Angelos? He spoke for so long on Wednesday night, it was as if he -- and not Cal Ripken -- had made baseball history.

By the way, is he finished yet?

In Angelos' defense, there's no easy way to do this. He knows O'Dowd is a hot property, and he wanted to open the lines of communication quickly, rather than get beaten to the punch.

Never mind that Doug Melvin appeared even more qualified than O'Dowd before leaving for Texas. And never mind that Frank Robinson figured to be the GM-in-waiting now that Melvin is gone.

If Jacobs hadn't intervened, this all might have gone rather smoothly. Angelos could have interviewed O'Dowd, then made a decision on him privately.

As with La Russa a year ago, the issue became public only after permission was denied. Angelos should know by now that there are few secrets in baseball. He should know that the off-season is the time to hire GMs. Then again, he couldn't have guessed Jacobs would be such an obstacle.

Owners.

Don't you just love 'em?

It's nice that Jacobs wants to keep the Cleveland organization stable, but who is he to stand in O'Dowd's way? Someone alert this dinosaur: The unwritten rule in baseball is to allow front-office executives to pursue better jobs.

Perhaps Jacobs will change his mind once he figures out that O'Dowd might turn sour, knowing his future is so limited. O'Dowd could always quit, but who knows if he's even the Orioles' front-runner? San Diego GM Randy Smith is an equally strong possibility.

In fact, Smith probably would be a better choice, if only because he's experienced. We've seen that a first-year manager is a poor fit for a team with a high payroll and higher expectations. A first-year GM could be just as big a disaster.

What's fascinating about O'Dowd is that the Orioles underestimated him once before, when Edward Bennett Williams was owner. O'Dowd and Indians GM John Hart were Hank Peters loyalists. That's how they wound up in Cleveland.

Hart, a former Nautilus salesman, was regarded by some Orioles executives as self-serving, someone with all style and no substance. O'Dowd, the same executives said, didn't know anything about baseball.

Together, these two nincompoops have built a team that could become only the ninth in major-league history to finish with a .700 winning percentage, and the first since the 1954 Indians finished 111-43.

Surely, Angelos must find it appealing that O'Dowd was a bitter rival of Melvin's when the two were in the Orioles' front office. Come to think of it, if O'Dowd gets this job, it would be like Napoleon returning from Elba.

But why should O'Dowd get this job?

True, he and Hart devised the plan that triggered the Indians' turnaround, signing top young players to long-term contracts, then adding veteran free agents with postseason experience.

True, he also rebuilt the Indians' farm system after Peters persuaded Jacobs to invest millions in player development, hiring strong minor-league managers and coaches and putting them in the right positions.

Still, O'Dowd is an assistant, a behind-the-scenes type, a detail guy. Hart handles the big picture. Hart makes the major decisions. Hart pulls the trigger.

Given the chance, maybe O'Dowd would be just as successful, but he's no more proven as a GM than Phil Regan was as a manager a year ago.

The Orioles hired Regan because he was a hot prospect, and to prevent Melvin from hiring him in Texas. Now, they've got little choice but to fire him.

Manager or general manager, it makes no difference -- hiring a rookie for either job is unfair. In a one-team town, every loss is considered a catastrophe. And the first one to get blamed is the new guy without a track record.

The booing of Regan bordered on vicious the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record. A manager with stature wouldn't face the same problem. A manager with stature would command respect -- from the players, the fans, everyone.

O'Dowd might be Regan's best hope, because of their prior connection in Cleveland. But if the Orioles are starting over, they've got to start completely over.

Regan is gone.

Hemond is gone.

As usual, it's sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

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