GM choice made easier by Johnson

October 31, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

Kevin Malone, Joe Klein, maybe it makes no difference. Davey Johnson has a way of turning his general managers into geniuses.

"It seems wherever I've been, the executive gets Executive of the Year, and I can't ever get Manager of the Year," Johnson said yesterday.

"Whoever they hire, I'll try to make him Executive of the Year."

It happened in New York, where Frank Cashen won the award with the Mets in 1986. And it could happen in Cincinnati, where Jim Bowden is a leading contender for this year's honor.

Could it happen in Baltimore?

Let's just say it will be Johnson's biggest test.

Randy Smith, the No. 1 candidate to replace Roland Hemond, is the new Detroit GM, leaving the Orioles to conduct their second annual Million Man Search.

Last year, they interviewed nine candidates for manager before hiring Phil Regan. This year, they've interviewed five candidates for GM, and they're probably not finished yet.

Almost anyone would be an improvement over Roland Hemond. But three years from now, will the Orioles be worse off for losing Doug Melvin, and missing out on Smith?

Malone is still the front-runner. Klein is a strong possibility, followed by Mike Port. Dan O'Dowd probably won't enter the picture, with Cleveland owner Dick Jacobs reluctant to grant the Orioles permission to interview him.

Gene Michael?

"He probably needs a couple of years off after being in New York," Johnson joked.

Bowden?

An intriguing possibility, but Johnson doesn't think Cincinnati owner Marge Schott would permit him to leave. What's more, Johnson might not want him to come.

It turns out Schott might not have been solely responsible for Johnson's ouster in Cincinnati. New Reds manager Ray Knight said yesterday that Bowden talked to him about the job as far back as 1993.

Johnson thanked Schott for allowing him to leave.

Now, he can thank Bowden for helping push him out.

Indeed, Bowden might have outfoxed himself, especially because he is believed to be heavily interested in joining the Orioles.

According to a Cincinnati Post report last weekend, Bowden's ++ former boss in Pittsburgh, Orioles farm director Syd Thrift, has lobbied owner Peter Angelos to interview him.

Thrift no doubt is trying to save his own job, but the point is probably moot, considering Schott's obstinateness.

Forget Bowden.

"Sometimes, Marge treats him like a son; other times like a red-headed stepchild. . . . But I can't see him leaving there," Johnson said.

So, it's probably Malone or Klein.

Neither is a knockout candidate. But Johnson will indeed make the new GM stronger.

He's smart. He's aggressive. And he'll be so good at handling the major-league club, the GM's biggest task might be rebuilding the farm system.

"I think for the success of any organization, the GM has to be very minor-league oriented," Johnson said. "The minor leagues feed the big-league club, so you don't get held hostage to free agents.

"When I was in New York, we never signed a free agent -- we built solely from within. I'm not totally for that. You use all avenues available to improve your ballclub. But I do believe more money should be spent on developing players than going out and buying them."

Voila!

We have a plan.

The right plan for an organization that spends ungodly sums at the major-league level, but didn't sign its fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round draft picks this year.

Which GM candidate is best qualified to execute such a plan?

Probably Klein.

But Klein, 53, has been fired, not once, not twice, but three times as an American League GM.

Each time, there were extenuating circumstances -- manager Doug Rader undermined him in Texas, Jacobs ousted him after becoming owner in Cleveland, club president John McHale wanted a younger, more assertive GM in Detroit.

Still, Klein's teams had only one winning season in his eight years as a GM. His .434 winning percentage stands in marked contrast to Johnson's .576, the highest among active managers.

That's the downside.

The upside is, Klein is considered an excellent talent evaluator. And, unlike Malone, who inherited a strong organization in Montreal, he is experienced at building a farm system.

The Indians drafted Albert Belle under his tenure. And he leaves the Tigers stronger than when he joined them.

"In our club's personnel meetings, people have talked about talked about the number of prospects the Tigers have," St. Louis GM Walt Jocketty told the Detroit Free Press.

The Tigers' farm clubs were 361-332 this season -- their first winning record in five years. Each of Klein's four major trades brought the Tigers young talent for a veteran who was not expected to return.

Klein has never worked with the resources that would be available to him in Baltimore -- when he took the Detroit job in January 1994, the Tigers already had $27 million committed to players for 1995, and ordered him to cut the payroll.

Johnson knows him, and said he would be a "good choice." Johnson also likes Malone, 38, whom he described as a "sharp young executive."

"I can work with any GM," Johnson said.

Indeed, Johnson worked with Joe McIlvaine, a stodgy traditionalist, in New York. And he worked with Bowden, a cutthroat member of the new breed, in Cincinnati.

He turns them all into geniuses.

Maybe, just maybe, there's hope for this franchise yet.

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