If Smith heads for Detroit, Orioles back to square one

October 17, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The most logical destination for Randy Smith is Detroit, which means the Orioles could strike out on their first choice as general manager, and perhaps their first two as manager.

They'll keep swinging. They always keep swinging.

But will they ever connect?

They have no other obvious GM candidate.

And if Smith hires Buck Showalter, the Orioles would be down to Davey Johnson if they refused to pay huge dollars and yield significant control to Tony La Russa.

Or, Johnson could go to the Yankees and La Russa could stay in Oakland, leaving the Orioles with . . .

Phil Regan?

Don't laugh.

It was inevitable that owner Peter Angelos would reach this point, considering he hasn't even fired Regan and Roland Hemond, and -- for a change -- doesn't seem to have a plan.

Forget the manager for a moment.

If not Smith, who's the GM?

Dan O'Dowd? The Cleveland Indians denied the Orioles permission to interview him, and Angelos might not like him even if the Indians reconsidered.

Gene Michael? He has been with the New York Yankees 25 years, and might remain as a scout even if he gets fired as GM.

Kevin Malone? The man who ripped Angelos, and said baseball was under the control of Satan? Forget it.

Meanwhile, American and National League sources say Smith is leaning to Detroit, where he is comfortable with club president John McHale, his former employer in Colorado.

Maybe the Orioles never had a chance with Smith.

Or, maybe the Angelos factor is starting to kick in.

Cleveland owner Dick Jacobs is believed to despise Angelos, and apparently blocked the Orioles' request to interview O'Dowd out of spite.

Smith, on the other hand, hit it off with Angelos at his interview, but surely baseball people are warning him to steer clear of such a hands-on owner.

Even if Angelos were considered benign, Smith probably would prefer to work with McHale, choosing the known over the unknown.

But Angelos is not considered benign.

And, as usual, the Orioles are in chaos.

A Hemond-La Russa package? Sorry, that wouldn't be enough. La Russa would be a huge improvement over Regan. But he wouldn't solve the greater problem -- the way the team is run.

Among the GM candidates, Michael is the best of the rest -- he's experienced at operating a large-market club with an aggressive owner.

Yet, Angelos might be bothered by his drunken-driving arrest last winter. He might be skeptical that Michael could rebuild his farm system. Besides, it's not even certain Michael would come.

Who does that leave?

Frank Robinson?

John Angelos?

Hank Peters?

This job, of course, should belong to Doug Melvin, but Angelos turned on him, then lost him to Texas. Smith, 32, is in the same mold. And now it appears the Orioles won't get him, either.

Three teams want Smith as their GM -- the Orioles, Montreal and Detroit. Indeed, Smith is as hot as Regan was on the managerial market last winter. The difference is, he brings experience to the job.

Smith isn't going to Montreal -- he did the small-market thing in

San Diego. And, surely, he's concerned with the patience level in Baltimore, where the owner spends and spends in a Rotisserie-style frenzy, though money alone can't buy a championship.

Which leaves Detroit.

Intriguing Detroit.

A sleeping giant soon to awaken in a new ballpark.

The Tigers are about where the Indians were six years ago -- poor club, old stadium, apathetic city. If you're Smith, you're thinking: I could be the next John Hart.

And that's only part of the equation.

Smith resigned in San Diego because he couldn't work with former Orioles president Larry Lucchino. McHale, however, is someone he likes and trusts. He wouldn't need to wonder, can we get along?

That concern would exist with Angelos.

That, and a few others.

The Orioles' nucleus is solid, but beyond that their talent is thin. They need to rebuild their bullpen and sign at least two starting pitchers. And the upper levels of their farm system are practically barren.

There is no leader in the clubhouse. There are no solid role players. There is a farm director (Syd Thrift) who tends to follow his own agenda. And there is a scouting director (Gary Nickels) who reports directly to the owner.

Really, what makes this job so attractive?

If the Orioles wanted Smith, they should have made him a drop-dead offer the day they interviewed him. But, of course, they didn't know if they wanted Smith, allowing Detroit to enter the picture.

So what happens next?

The Orioles will keep swinging. They always keep swinging.

@4 The question is, how badly will they strike out?

World Series

Day .. .. .. Site .. .. .. .. Time

Saturday ... at Atlanta .. .. 7:20

Sunday .. .. at Atlanta .. .. 7:20

Oct. 24 . .. at Sea./Cle. ... 8:20

Oct. 25 . .. at Sea./Cle. ... 8:20

Oct. 26* ... at Sea./Cle. ... 8:20

Oct. 28* ... at Atlanta .. .. 7:20

Oct. 29* ... at Atlanta .. .. 7:20

-- If necessary

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