Angelos factor skews Gillick-Malone grade

September 17, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

Kevin Malone is gone. Pat Gillick is going. How do we assess their three years as the Orioles' architects?

Not easily.

It would be no problem if they'd had unchecked authority to make trades, choose managers and do all the things high front-office officials do in a normal organizational arrangement. Accountability is easily judged then.

But Gillick and Malone didn't have unchecked authority. Orioles owner Peter Angelos had opinions that counted, and his overruled those of Gillick and Malone on several key decisions.

Thus, assessing their three years is patently unfair. If they'd had the freedom to make all the calls, their tenure would have unfolded differently, and the Orioles would have a different look now.

4 Why do you think Gillick and Malone are leaving?

This much we know: Player development has improved considerably on their watch. For the first time in years, the Orioles are growing a crop of young players about whom they're rightfully excited. It's not a coincidence.

Gillick and Malone understand that developing players, not buying them, is the sign of a sound organization.

Whoever replaces them at the top of the front office won't have better instincts.

Or better credentials.

The Orioles have now parted with a sitting Manager of the Year and two of the game's top front-office types in the past 10 months. They aren't the better for it, that's for sure.

Granted, Gillick and Malone knew they were signing on for a ride with a hands-on owner, so you can't portray them as victims. Part of their job was to hone a relationship with Angelos that would enable them to get their way.

And let's face it, ownership involvement in on-field matters can no longer be viewed as surprising or even unusual now that payrolls are ballooning past $70 million and TV executives are making trades without consulting GMs.

In fairness, Angelos helped Gillick's and Malone's scorecard look better. They got credit when the Orioles made the playoffs in 1996 for the first time in 13 years, but it wouldn't have happened if Angelos hadn't vetoed midseason trades involving David Wells and Bobby Bonilla, whom Gillick and Malone wanted to deal for prospects.

But if Angelos hadn't vetoed those trades, the club might have such promising, young players as Montreal catcher Chris Widger and Milwaukee outfielder Jeromy Burnitz in uniform now. How would that look?

In other words, if you're among the many who think the Orioles have grown too old and slow, don't blame Gillick and Malone. It wasn't their idea.

Nor was it their idea to part with former manager Davey Johnson after last season. Why tinker with a winning formula?

Johnson's departure goes on Angelos' ledger. So does the hiring of Ray Miller as Johnson's replacement. Gillick, citing a prior commitment, didn't even attend the news conference announcing Miller's hiring last November.

Angelos has overruled Gillick and Malone on other occasions in the past year. They wanted to protect pitcher Esteban Yan in the expansion draft and trade him to the Marlins for starter Al Leiter. Angelos wanted veterans protected in the draft.

The result? Yan was drafted by the Devil Rays, killing the deal for Leiter. The Orioles wound up with neither. And either would have helped this season.

Gillick and Malone also wanted to break up this year's disappointing team at midseason. Their idea was to trade

Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro to the Mets for John Olerud and Carlos Baerga. Angelos overruled them again.

The merits of the proposed deal were debatable, but there's no doubt Gillick and Malone were right that the Orioles deserved a ** good blowing-up before the end of this season.

What else do you do with a team that's 30 games out in the loss column at the All-Star break?

Not that Gillick and Malone were always right. They miscalculated the importance of Randy Myers, whose departure after last season contributed mightily to this year's flop. And they had a terrible off-season with the signings of Joe Carter, Ozzie Guillen, Doug Drabek and Norm Charlton.

The new GM is bound to do better than that.

But it's a shame there's going to be a new GM at all.

Gillick and Malone were shrewd professionals, among the best organizational designers the Orioles have had. They made the club smarter and more patient.

If they'd been left free to make all the big decisions, the Orioles would be in better shape now.

But they didn't have unchecked authority. They didn't have any authority on some decisions.

That's why it's impossible to assess how they fared in three years on the job. That's also why they're leaving.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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