Malone loss leaves O's bottomed out

September 12, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

"The general manager needs the necessary authority in the decision-making process. If Mr. Angelos wants me to stay, I'd like to think he would like to believe in my vision and my direction."

-- Kevin Malone, July 10.

"I believe in the way that this [Los Angeles] organization is going to be structured believe they'll give me not only the responsibility, but support me and commit to me the authority to get the job done."

-- Kevin Malone, Sept. 11.

He wasn't going to get the necessary authority in Baltimore. He might not get it in Los Angeles. But here's all you need to know about Malone's decision to become the Dodgers' GM: He accepted immediately, without even asking the Orioles to make a counteroffer.

Think that's bad?

Here's all you need to know about the Orioles' strategy for keeping their top candidate, the one endorsed by current GM Pat Gillick, the one that merited a four-year contract from one of the most storied franchises in sports:

They weren't going to enter a bidding war.

They weren't going to disrupt their process.

They weren't going to fight for their man.

"When you have an organization this size, in terms of our revenue, attendance and payroll, the owners and the fans deserve the organization to go through the complete process of reviewing all the candidates," said vice chairman of business and finance Joe Foss. "I don't think you should be limited to the candidates who are within the organization."

They don't get it. They never get it.

Players, broadcasters, managers, GMs -- they're all just replaceable parts. Continuity? There is no continuity. If someone leaves, just find someone else.

Malone worked eight months without a contract. He saw Foss and owner Peter Angelos obstruct Gillick. And he never received an offer from the team that he helped direct to the ALCS in 1996 and '97.

Why would Malone want to stay?

Why would anyone else want to come?

Malone left. Doug Melvin left. Gillick is as good as gone.

That's the new GM of the fabled Dodgers, the GM of the contending Texas Rangers, and the former GM of the two-time world champion Toronto Blue Jays.

The next GM can't assume that he, too, is destined for bigger things.

The party is over.

The payroll is bloated. The team is is old and dysfunctional. The farm system is one year away from providing quality replacements, providing that Angelos even wants them.

The next GM will be:

A) A Rotisserie geek.

B) Desperate for work.

C) A total flunkie.

D) All of the above.

Sad, isn't it? Almost everywhere you turn, major-league baseball appears on an upswing. But in Baltimore, the home team is losing its special appeal, disintegrating right before our eyes.

Malone was the perfect man to lead a renaissance. He spent three years learning to work with Angelos. He knew the Orioles' strengths and weaknesses. He understood the fractious nature of the clubhouse.

As GM, he could have hired Felipe Alou, his old manager in Montreal. He also could have lured free-agent catcher Mike Piazza, given his excellent relationship with Piazza's agent, Dan Lozano.

Now he takes those advantages to Los Angeles.

To keep Malone, all Angelos needed to do was show good faith, make him an offer, grant him power. The deal could have been done at the All-Star break. Gillick would not have objected.

But under Angelos and Foss, the Orioles operate as if in a vacuum, negotiating on their own timetables. They either lose people or overpay them. They rarely seem to follow a plan.

What are they seeking in a GM?

"We want an individual with the talents, ability, confidence and experience to be involved in major decisions of the largest or second-largest revenue club in major-league baseball," Foss said. "That has the experience, presence and ability to interact with other GMs, is excellent at assessing player talents and has a particular ability and eye in scouting and player development."

Terrific.

Foss just described Kevin Malone.

As GM, Malone already could have been tackling the tough questions: Should the Orioles re-sign Rafael Palmeiro? How should they replace Roberto Alomar? Do they sit Cal Ripken? Who will be their closer, their catcher, their center fielder?

The new GM must deal with all of that, and if he's a National Leaguer like Cincinnati's Jim Bowden, he'll be going in blind. Heck, even someone familiar with the team will have to negotiate the equally tangled webs in the warehouse and clubhouse.

Fox moved to put its GM in place before the end of the season -- "a tremendous advantage," Malone said. Foss said the Orioles want to make their hire by the end of the World Series, but they'll face competition from several clubs seeking GMs.

Dave Dombrowski was the Dodgers' first choice, but he stayed in Florida. Peter Chernin, a Fox executive involved in the hiring process, said he was impressed by Malone's strategy for restoring the Dodgers to prominence.

"That strategy was, 'We've got to put a winning team on the field, we've got to be competitive.' But the way to accomplish that is to concentrate on the fundamentals of the organization, develop scouting, develop the farm system," Chernin said.

"That, fundamentally, is the strategy we believe in. You've got to build from within. You've got to develop quality people. You can't go out and buy your way in."

Player development, what a concept!

The Fox people have been ridiculed for trading prospects, acquiring ego-driven stars, firing longtime GM Fred Claire -- in short, defacing the Dodgers' tradition.

The Orioles made them look visionary.

The Orioles handed them Kevin Malone.

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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