In his time, Hemond did right job

October 21, 1995|By John Eisenberg

Most Orioles fans will cheer the news that Roland Hemond resigned yesterday, and that is not remotely fair, not if you take the long view of his eight-year tenure as the club's general manager.

That might sound hypocritical considering that the opinion here, stated often, was that it was time for Hemond to go. But that opinion was based on the club's circumstances in 1995, which didn't play to Hemond's strengths. The club needed someone more aggressive, bolder, willing to take risks, willing to stand up to the owner.

That wasn't Hemond. But what was he? A lot of things for which the Orioles should be thankful.

It is just unfair that cheers and only cheers might greet his departure, because he deserves better.

When he took over stewardship of the club in 1987, it was at rock bottom, hanging onto the past with no hope for the future. The minor-league system was not only dry, but also an embarrassment, with only seven African-Americans out of 100 players. Hemond was brought in to restore order. And he did.

The scouts went back to work and began finding players again, restocking the minor-league system. And high draft picks -- the club's first in years -- were spent wisely, on pitchers such as Ben McDonald, Gregg Olson and Mike Mussina.

It was sound management that emphasized pitching and

defense, and it was Hemond's management.

If you're going to blame him for what went wrong recently, credit him for what went right as the Orioles pulled out of the deep hole symbolized by their 0-21 start in 1988.

After that season, the Orioles were contenders in four of the next six seasons, even though Hemond was operating under severe fiscal restraints ordered by owner Eli Jacobs, who wasn't willing to spend what was necessary to take the club to the next level.

Hemond was at home in that situation, able to scour the bushes for bargains such as Todd Frohwirth and Jim Poole and third-tier free agents such as Rick Sutcliffe and still piece together a decent team.

Oddly, it was when Peter Angelos bought the team and started spending millions -- supposedly a GM's dream -- that Hemond wound up out of his element.

He was known as a happy trader years ago, but the game is different now and trading is a dying art. Baseball today is about free agency and contract terms and payroll limits and holding onto your good players and filling in holes temporarily. It is a game that requires boldness, movement and vision.

Boldness is not an adjective that best describes Hemond; he was always outgunned by Pat Gillick (or Gene Michael this year) in those July trades that become so important.

And vision? Alas, the Orioles have resembled a wild but empty vessel since Angelos took over, spending money almost in a frenzy on whoever is available, but seemingly without much thought given to how the pieces would fit.

Sid Fernandez was a classic case. He was signed simply because Angelos was itchy to spend money to prove himself different from Jacobs and Fernandez was the best available starting pitcher that winter. Whether or not it was a wise choice didn't seem to matter.

But there also have been many bad decisions lately for which Hemond must shoulder the blame. Some moves are bound to go wrong, but not this many. Signing Chris Sabo, Fernandez, Bret Barberie, Andy Van Slyke and Matt Nokes. Letting Mark McLemore get away. Letting Lee Smith get away. Advising that Barberie and Manny Alexander were an able platoon at second and that Armando Benitez and Brad Pennington were ready in the bullpen.

Those were decisions that doomed Phil Regan before the first pitch of the season. And they were Hemond's decisions.

It is time for a change. Time to bring in a younger GM with new rules of judgment who can play the free-agent game, such as John Hart or Dan Duquette, come up with a clear vision for the club, stick to it -- and tell Angelos to butt out when necessary because the GM is the baseball boss.

Whether Angelos is willing to let someone tell him that is another issue, of course, the critical issue. We'll see what happens.

If the Orioles do reorganize correctly, they'll do it like the smart, stable teams do and hire a new GM first. Then that GM will hire the manager he wants. Everyone would be on the same page that way. That hasn't been the case here since Edward Bennett Williams died.

Even if Davey Johnson is an obvious and solid choice as manager, he's a bad choice if he is hired before a new GM who doesn't like him.

Hire the GM first!

Hemond's tenure is a classic example of what can go wrong when everyone isn't on the same page. That's why those cheering his departure are guilty of a knee-jerk reaction. Yes, Hemond's judgment was in a horrible slump, but he did good work here for a long time, in spite of ownership constantly forcing his hand in various and intrusive ways. It was time for him to go, but he should be applauded as he leaves.

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