Owning little say, Gillick speaks volumes with silence Respected GM finds O's role obscured as Angelos calls all shots

November 07, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick shuttled between owner Peter Angelos and manager Davey Johnson last week, trying to broker an uneasy peace that would keep the organization moving in the direction that led to the American League Championship Series each of the past two seasons. He did not succeed.

Now, Gillick must hire a new manager, piece together a new coaching staff and re-create a sense of organizational stability in the wake of Johnson's resignation on Wednesday.

Whether he succeeds this time depends on how much authority he retains within the Orioles' hierarchy, and that is something that only Angelos can address.

Gillick has declined to comment on anything relating to Johnson's resignation or the search for a new manager, referring all questions to Angelos. That is either an indication that he has become gun-shy around the volatile owner, or has simply decided to keep the lowest possible profile to allow the organization to return to a state of normalcy.

His silence, however, speaks loudly about the state of the Orioles' organization at another critical point in franchise history. The next manager probably will be named in a matter of days, and it appears that Angelos will be making the selection.

Angelos owns the club and -- by all accounts -- has the right to make important policy decisions, but in most major-league organizations, the choice of a new manager is made by the baseball operations staff. The owner is consulted, of course, but usually does not take an active role in compiling the list of candidates.

"I can't analyze [the Orioles]," said Los Angeles Dodgers executive vice president and general manager Fred Claire, "but I am a huge believer in granting and accepting responsibility. When Peter [Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley] asked me to take this position 11 years ago, I said I would but I wanted to be assured that I would have full authority to make those decisions within our budget restraints.

"If a GM is going to get run out of town for bad trades and bad signings, I think he would like to feel that those were his decisions."

Angelos intervention

Angelos, of course, has intervened on a number of occasions. He vetoed potential midseason deals involving veterans David Wells and Bobby Bonilla in 1996, and insisted last winter that the club fire pitching coach Pat Dobson and replace him with Ray Miller. Those decisions clearly bolstered Angelos' confidence in his own baseball acumen and -- apparently -- further disjointed the front office chain of command.

It is the kind of management style that made New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner the toast of the Big Apple in the late 1970s, when the Yankees won two world titles, and also made him the subject of intense criticism when a series of much-publicized front office blunders contributed to a 13-year span between playoff appearances from 1981 to 1995.

Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott also gained a reputation for short-circuiting the chain of command when she was more actively involved in the operation of that club, but general manager Jim Bowden adapted to the situation and finished first in the National League Central -- with Davey Johnson as manager -- in 1994 and 1995. Johnson, under circumstances similar to what transpired in Baltimore, left after the 1995 season to manage the Orioles.

"First of all, the owner of the franchise has a right to run the franchise any way they see fit," Bowden said. "A lot of times, the GM is going to agree, but in the end the owner has the right to make decisions in the best interest of the club."

'You have to carry it out'

That doesn't mean the GM has to like it, but Gillick has not complained. He had wide-ranging authority during his long tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays and is considered one of the most brilliant front office executives in professional sports, but it has become clear that Angelos defers to no one when it comes to the management of one of his enterprises.

"I think that the professional that [Gillick] is, and the organizational person that he is, you always want to do what's right for the organization," Bowden said. "The decision may not be your decision, but if the organization makes a decision, you have to carry it out and then support it. If you lose someone, whether it be a manager or a player, your job is to go out and try to find someone better. You have to turn it into a positive."

Most teams employ a far more traditional management style, including the one that Gillick left in Toronto. Now he must deal with the appearance that virtually any decision is subject to ownership review.

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