Heavy hitter in front office O so welcome

November 28, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

The chaos of the past two seasons served its purpose. Peter fTC Angelos learned his lesson, and the hiring of Pat Gillick proves it. The humiliation of the previous front office, the obsession with high-priced talent, the delay in naming a GM -- yesterday's news makes it all worthwhile.

The last time something this good happened to the Orioles, they won the 1983 World Series. Finally, Angelos gets it. He needed a strong GM, and he got one of the strongest. Hello, minor-league upgrade. Hello, AL East title. If Gillick thought Angelos was going to meddle, he wouldn't have taken the job.

Gillick will shape the roster. Gillick will negotiate contracts. Gillick will follow a plan. He tormented the Orioles as Toronto's GM, signing long-shot draft picks, acquiring Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar and Devon White in one off-season, making daring pennant-race trades. His magic will be even more welcome in such a fervent baseball town.

First, the Grey Cup. Now, Gillick. When does Canada invade? The Browns had better snap to it. The only way they can top the Gillick-Davey Johnson power combo is if they hire another famous semi-retiree -- Jimmy Johnson. How about it, Art?

Gillick and Johnson, three World Series titles between them in the past decade. The New York Mets were the dominant NL team in the '80s. The Blue Jays were the dominant AL team in the early '90s. Proven winners, for a team that has been so close to winning. The same couldn't be said of Kevin Malone, of Joe Klein, of John Barr.

This is a watershed moment for Angelos. No longer can he be viewed as another George Steinbrenner. A better analogy might be Drayton McLane, the Houston owner who spent freely before naming Tal Smith club president. Heck, Angelos could even prove to be the next Ted Turner, writing the checks and little more.

He never trusted Roland Hemond, but already the difference with Gillick is evident. Remember Ron Gant? Angelos wanted him, Hemond didn't get him and their relationship never recovered. Now, it turns out that Gillick doesn't want Gant -- too costly. And Angelos is not the least bit bothered.

The payroll will be a minimum of $40 million, and probably "north of that," Gillick said. The Orioles already have approximately $26.5 million committed to six players. Gillick wants to remain flexible, and he wants to add pitching. In other words, the Orioles will need to be creative to sign a Roberto Alomar.

So be it. Alomar will want to come now, and so will others. Johnson, Gillick, Cal Ripken, Camden Yards -- that should be enough to entice any free agent. Still, Gillick isn't going to get silly. He knows the next labor agreement might include a luxury tax that will kick in above a certain payroll -- say, $42 million. He might sign two modestly priced pitchers instead of a David Cone.

This is known as vision, for those us who've forgotten, and Angelos will welcome it. Gillick wants him involved -- "when you have $170 million invested in a club, I'd be hands-on too." He even wants him to visit the clubhouse to meet players. But if Angelos makes a suggestion he doesn't like, he'll reject it, and that will be that.

Gillick makes all the pieces fit; Angelos understands that. The best way to control the payroll is to reload the farm system, and who better to do it than Gillick? Never again will the Orioles fail to sign their fifth, sixth and seventh draft picks, the way they did this year. Gillick simply won't let it happen.

He is a huge player in the international market -- the Blue Jays established that great Dominican pipeline, and they also signed the first big-time prospect out of Brazil, pitcher Jose Pett. And he isn't afraid when a U.S. amateur player is considered "unsignable." Rather, he takes it as a challenge.

In 1989, the Orioles had the No. 1 pick in the draft, and they identified Ben McDonald and John Olerud as the top two players. Olerud, recovering from surgery to remove a brain aneurysm, told scouts he planned to return for his senior year at Washington State. That made him a gamble.

The Orioles took McDonald with the top pick, figuring that Olerud would still be available in the second round. But Hemond called Olerud's father, a former minor-leaguer whom he had signed for California in 1965. John Olerud Sr. said his son would not sign, and the Orioles backed off.

The Blue Jays grabbed Olerud in the third round, and the rest is history. Olerud Sr. later apologized to Hemond, but what did it matter? Gillick always has an edge -- he traded for Cone in 1992 and Rickey Henderson in '93, leaving the Orioles to pick up Craig Lefferts and Lonnie Smith as crumbs. He always gets his man.

The Jays lost 11 players off their world championship club in '92, but Gillick replaced Jimmy Key with Dave Stewart, Kelly Gruber with Ed Sprague, Dave Winfield with Paul Molitor -- and Toronto won again. That's what's so fitting about this move. The Orioles pulled a Gillick to get it done.

One former Orioles employee said he was so excited by the news, he couldn't sleep Sunday night. Indeed, all of baseball is energized now that Gillick is back as a GM. He's that good, that innovative, that respected.

It was a risk for the Orioles to hire a manager before a GM, but it turns out that Johnson is the one who persuaded Gillick to come to Baltimore. This is the kind of karma that has been missing. The kind the Orioles need. The kind Peter Angelos just created, with this stunning, inspired hire.

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