Angelos holds sway, so GM stands pat

August 02, 1996|By John Eisenberg

The general manager was ready to deal.

The owner said no.

Wasn't this where we came in with Peter Angelos and the Orioles?

Wasn't his influence on baseball matters supposed to diminish or even disappear when Pat Gillick was hired to run the club?

Didn't he pledge that Gillick "would have all the leeway a GM should have, and maybe more" on the day Gillick was hired?

Think again.

Gillick reportedly was ready to carve up the disappointing '96 Orioles and trade Bobby Bonilla and David Wells for younger players who could help in '97 and beyond.

It was a second-guessable position with the Orioles just five games out in the wild-card race, but Gillick, one of the game's best general managers, had seen enough to believe that the club was better off angling for the future with such players as Seattle catching prospect Chris Widger.

He was hired to make such judgments after building a team that won two World Series in Toronto.

Angelos basically overruled him, preferring to continue trying to win this year. The owner was willing to trade Bonilla, but not Wells.

You know what happened. The trading deadline came, Bonilla and Wells went nowhere and the Orioles swept Minnesota to inch past .500.

"These were extraordinary circumstances," Angelos said yesterday.

Somewhere, Roland Hemond was laughing.

Hemond was Gillick's predecessor, supposedly too timid to challenge Angelos' firm and opinionated authority.

Pat, welcome to Roland's World, where you just think you're calling all the shots.

In Angelos' defense, he had all kinds of sound reasoning behind his refusal to give up on '96, the foremost being that the club is still in contention.

Yes, it is a talented club that has come in far below expectations, but, with its lineup of stars, it does have the capability of getting hot and making up enough ground to make September interesting.

"To discuss dismantling the club in those circumstances is something ownership must be involved with," Angelos said. "That's not just a baseball decision. That's an organizational policy decision."

Angelos was understandably loath to give up after having sold 3 million tickets before the season began. To give up with the fans' money already in his coffers could have been construed as defrauding the public.

He also had spent $48 million to win in '96.

Yet there is no evidence that the fans would have complained about trading Bonilla and Wells. Some would have supported a decision to build for the future. The fans are hardly in love with this year's unemotional, underachieving team.

If anything, the fans are disgusted by this year's team.

Anyway, the boss is the boss, and Gillick apparently was willing to yield to Angelos' dictum because it came with a pledge to spend "whatever it takes" to build a winner in '97. Getting overruled in the middle of a disappointing season apparently was acceptable in return for getting the chance to spend a huge, blank check in the off-season.

No one can doubt Angelos' determination to bring a winner to town.

Still, there are aspects to this situation that are troubling.

Clearly, the arrival of a new NFL team in town was a factor in Angelos' stance. Giving up would have ceded the town's attention for the rest of '96 to the Ravens, who play their first exhibition game at Memorial Stadium tomorrow and should enjoy a honeymoon season.

Had they traded Wells and bagged '96, the Orioles would have had to try to combat the allure of that honeymoon with the image of Jimmy Haynes and Garrett Stephenson getting blasted down the stretch of a stunningly disappointing season.

Obviously not a pleasant possibility for the marketing department.

But since when should the business side dictate moves on the baseball side of a rich, large-market franchise?

Since when should holding the fans' interest down the stretch matter more than what makes baseball sense?

Shouldn't what is best for the team in the long run matter most?

In this case, what was best for the team in the long run was to trade Bonilla and Wells.

Sure, now there is a better chance that the club will come alive and climb back into contention. But what kind of a chance? Not good.

The Orioles are 12-29 against teams with winning records.

Manager Davey Johnson said recently that improvements needed to be made "to make us a championship ballclub."

Implying that they weren't one as things stood.

It's true. Everyone knows it.

Meanwhile, this is an organization with a dearth of prospects, one that needed the kind of players Bonilla and Wells would have produced.

Angelos denied yesterday that the team was sacrificing the future.

"We're building," he said. "We're spending in that direction. Pat and [assistant GM] Kevin Malone are extremely knowledgeable in that area."

But Angelos also admitted that he was more concerned with the present than the future.

"We have an obligation to maintain a competitive team," he said. "To trade Wells would have had a very detrimental effect. There is still almost a third of the season still to play."

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