Klein, runner-up last time, deserves close look as O's GM

September 20, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

Would-be general managers are lining up for one of the best-paying off-the-field positions in baseball, or any sport. Peter Angelos pays well. He enticed Pat Gillick out of the retirement pasture for a salary of $2.4 million for three years.

Gillick is now taking a hike, maybe a return to the Toronto Blue Jays, after spasmodic success with the Orioles. Yes, they qualified for two out of three playoffs, but 1998 has been a woeful disaster. Never has a team payroll approaching $69.7 million achieved so little. Players embarrassed themselves, including manager Ray Miller and, of course, Angelos, who was paying the bills. Good money was scattered to the four winds.

Can Miller manage or should the Orioles consider bringing in Rick Dempsey? Angelos picked Miller, and the belief is he's not about to send him packing after a year when he experienced a loss of front-line talent, including Mike Mussina, Brady Anderson and Roberto Alomar. The Orioles now have pressing and vital decisions to make.

The general manager possibilities include Gene Michael, Frank Wren, Fred Claire and Jim Bowden. Syd Thrift, head of Orioles player development, insists he's not a candidate. Coach Mike Flanagan would make an ideal assistant general manager if that phase appeals to him, but he'd face a learning process.

A new general manager, whomever it might be, could get him ready for such responsibilities. The vacancy sign is out with Gillick and assistant Kevin Malone, bound for the Los Angeles Dodgers, both leaving. There's an appeal working for Angelos because he doesn't handcuff a team financially. But he expects results. No complaint with any of that.

When Angelos hired Gillick, he mentioned the second-place applicant, who missed out on a close call, was Joe Klein, who had a GM background with the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. All three opportunities were then low-budget operations. Also an unfair read of Klein's abilities. In Detroit, for instance, he had to cut seven players from the roster to reduce $27 million in salary expenditures.

After Gillick was selected, the Orioles wanted Klein, a graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic, who played 10 years in the minor leagues, then managed and scouted, for another job with them. He was grateful but declined, saying he didn't feel it would be fair to Gillick, the man who got the job he had just missed.

Now he regrets not becoming Gillick's assistant. If he had, no doubt he'd be ascending to the GM level in the chain of command. This year, Klein, age 55, has been director of the independent Atlantic League, not affiliated with organized baseball, but successful in its own right in developing players for major-league clubs. It's hoped the Orioles will consider another look at Klein. He's smart, articulate, a family man with exemplary habits and would enhance the franchise because of his knowledge.

In another aspect, apart from Klein, it's significant to note how this year's roster reflects success or failure relevant to player acquisitions and the part general managers play. Here's a listing of what general managers, present and past, have contributed:

Pat Gillick: Roberto Alomar, Mike Bordick, Eric Davis, Doug Drabek, Willie Greene, Doug Johns, Jimmy Key, B.J. Surhoff, Lenny Webster, Juan Guzman, Rich Becker, Scott Kamieniecki, Pete Smith, Jeff Reboulet and Harold Baines, previously let go by Gillick but brought back.

Roland Hemond: Rafael Palmeiro, Brady Anderson, Mike Mussina, Chris Hoiles, Scott Erickson, Jesse Orosco, Arthur Rhodes, Armando Benitez, Alan Mills, Sidney Ponson, Jeffrey Hammonds (dealt to Cincinnati for Willie Greene).

Hank Peters: Cal Ripken.

Gillick and Malone, after what evolved on the field, had an off year. They went 0-for-4 on Ozzie Guillen, Doug Drabek, Joe Carter and Norm Charlton. But there has never been a general manager, even Branch Rickey and George Weiss, who didn't miss in their evaluations of players. Don't expect general managers to be right all the time. It's not a science and tougher than forecasting weather or handicapping horses because of the human variables.

Angelos has been berated by some critics for rejecting plans by Gillick two years ago to trade David Wells and Bobby Bonilla for prospects, possibly catcher Chris Widger, batting .233 with 15 home runs for the Montreal Expos, and outfielder Jeromy Burnitz of the Milwaukee Brewers, who has ripped 37 homers while batting .267. But, in all reality, it's doubtful if the Brewers would have parted with Burnitz. At the time, Angelos explained -- and was proved right -- that the Orioles had 30,000 season ticket-holders to consider. They had paid for the seats and he wasn't going to surrender the season prematurely.

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