Malone weaknesses exposed with look at Montreal reign

October 26, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CLEVELAND -- Kevin Malone is considered a hard worker, a solid personnel man, an executive who paid his dues.

That doesn't mean he should be the Orioles' next general manager.

There are questions surrounding Malone, serious questions. His volatile personality and strong religious convictions make him something of an outsider in baseball circles, but those issues can be overlooked.

His inexperience can not.

The Orioles just fired a rookie manager they hired off a strong interview. They might be about to make the same mistake on Malone, and it could prove far more damaging.

Malone, 38, wouldn't be a rookie -- he was the Montreal GM for almost two years before resigning this month. But his duties with the Orioles would be so different, it's almost like comparing apples and oranges.

Perhaps Malone would be successful with resources that were unavailable to him with the small-market Expos.

Perhaps the baseball men who disparage him are jealous that Malone is younger than most of them, and was named the game's top GM by Baseball Weekly.

Perhaps.

But the Orioles can't be sure.

So, whom should they hire? That's their problem. They lost Doug Melvin. They failed to land Randy Smith. They apparently haven't requested permission a second time to interview Dan O'Dowd.

Malone is probably the best of a weak field, and his aggressive, thorough approach would be a refreshing departure from Roland Hemond's.

Still, he wasn't even a good scouting director.

Why should the Orioles think he'd be a good GM?

That's Malone's background -- scouting. His experience in Montreal taught him the value of a strong farm system. But he doesn't necessarily know how to operate one, and won't get the help he needs from farm director Syd Thrift.

No one ever calls Thrift a team player. He's campaigning for the GM's job, has been for quite some time. The Orioles should just fire him, and clean up Joe Foss' mess once and for all.

Malone isn't going to pick the manager (though he likes Davey Johnson). He isn't going to pick the farm director. And he probably won't negotiate contracts, because vice president of baseball operations Bill Stoneman performed that task in Montreal.

Is that the profile of a strong GM?

It's the nature of today's game that owner Peter Angelos and club counsel Russell Smouse will be involved in contracts. But Malone is so lacking in background, he would be forced to defer authority.

Which might be just the way Angelos wants it.

Would the outspoken Malone tolerate intrusions? He was sharply critical of Angelos' anti-management position during the strike. Indeed, like others before him, he likely will find that Angelos' money is a wonderful tool, but life with the Orioles is not exactly a free-spending romp.

Malone probably knows that already, but he needs a job. His ascent has been remarkable. He began his front-office career at the lowest level, as an area scout with California in 1985. Nine years later, he was a GM.

How did he fare in Montreal?

It's difficult to judge.

The Expos had the best record in the majors last season with a club put together largely by Malone's predecessors, Dave Dombrowski and Dan Duquette. This season, they finished last in the NL East.

It wasn't Malone's fault -- owner Claude Brochu ordered him in spring training to trade his three best players (Marquis Grissom, John Wetteland and Ken Hill) without worrying about the return.

Brochu and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner negotiated the deal that brought the Expos approximately $2 million and a minor-leaguer for Wetteland. Malone traded Hill for three young players, and Grissom for Roberto Kelly, Tony Tarasco and a minor-league pitcher.

Tarasco might prove no more than a bench player. And Malone traded Kelly in a panic, sending him to Los Angeles for Henry Rodriguez after Expos first baseman Cliff Floyd broke his wrist.

Rodriguez arrived with the beginnings of a stress fracture in his leg. That forced Malone to swing another deal -- one of his best -- for former Orioles first baseman David Segui.

Has he ever built a team?

No.

All he has done is strip one down.

Still, Malone has his strengths, and his biggest might be his work ethic. He made his mark as a scout with Minnesota, helping prepare the report the Twins used to defeat Atlanta in the 1991 World Series.

"It was an amazing volume of work," Twins GM Terry Ryan said then.

Malone spent 241 days away from home that season as the TTC Twins' East Coast scouting supervisor, earning a World Series ring. Other clubs took note. Just days after the series ended, the Expos named him their scouting director.

And the criticism started with his first draft.

Malone was responsible for the 1992 and '93 drafts in Montreal. The No. 1 picks in each were busts. Overall, both drafts were considered below average.

Teams can build a foundation with No. 1 picks -- look at the Orioles with Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina. The Expos operate on such a low budget, they need quality and quantity out of their drafts to stay competitive.

Malone apparently didn't get either, yet he became GM when Duquette left for Boston. It was an extraordinary burden -- he worked without an assistant GM or advance scouts. Yet, his one major hire -- farm director Bill Geiveitt -- isn't highly regarded.

Geiveitt, 32, was one of the first players Malone signed as a scout with the Angels. He and Malone changed 10 of the 13 managers and coaches in the Expos' minor-league system, which supposedly was one of the best in baseball.

Equally alarming, Geiveitt faced a near mutiny at his first Instructional League. Players complained about hotel food, long hours on the field and Geiveitt's attempt to institute a system of fines. Not exactly a nurturing environment.

The bottom line?

Kevin Malone is bold enough and savvy enough to make an excellent GM, but to this point his record consists of little more than salary-dump trades, weak drafts and questionable hires.

Serious questions for an organization that needs answers now.

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