O's, Ravens don't cash in for success

October 13, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Camden Yards is the envy of cities across America. Its sports teams should be, too.

The baseball stadium is a cash cow. The football stadium is a cash cow. The Orioles and Ravens possess the resources to compete at the highest levels.

Indeed, fans in Baltimore should be among the most satisfied in the country, luxuriating in spectacular facilities, cheering for perennial contenders.

Yet, many are frustrated, alienated, even angry.

The fans do their part, supporting the Orioles and Ravens in record numbers. But the teams are so mismanaged, they can't even exploit the advantages provided by the U.S. Mint at Camden Yards.

Both franchises are impeded by owners who fancy themselves experts -- owners who refuse to grant their hired executives the authority to develop coherent visions, build powerhouse organizations, react quickly to changing events.

They're not exactly mirror images, these two. The Ravens' Art Modell doesn't hire as aggressively or spend as freely as the Orioles' Peter Angelos. He doesn't run off employees at the same rate, either.

The teams are at different points in their histories. Their leagues operate on almost opposite economic philosophies. Yet, for all their differences, the questions surrounding both franchises are essentially the same.

Who makes the decisions?

Who charts the future?

Who's accountable?

The Orioles are on the verge of hiring a new general manager. Normally, such news creates a buzz, generating optimism for a new day, a shift in direction, often sweeping change.

There's only one possible reaction this time:

Here comes the next sucker.

Whoever gets the job will be qualified, be it Cleveland assistant GM Dan O'Dowd, Florida assistant GM Frank Wren or anyone else. He'll say it's great to work in Baltimore, great to work for an owner as committed as Angelos.

We've heard it all before.

The new GM might be allowed to name his own farm director and scouting director, but he'll be saddled with Ray Miller as manager, at least through early next season.

Then there are the free agents -- Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, B. J. Surhoff and Eric Davis, among others. The Orioles will maintain exclusive negotiating rights to them until 15 days after the conclusion of the World Series.

Will the new GM be able to decide their futures that quickly?

Will it even be his call?

Such questions are critical, because in the age of free agency, teams can restructure dramatically in the off-season. That's as true for the Ravens as it is for the Orioles. And at the moment, it appears the Ravens botched their off-season but good.

They talked and talked about the value of adding "hardened veterans" -- quarterback Jim Harbaugh, running back Errict Rhett, fullback Roosevelt Potts and cornerback Rod Woodson. But of the four, only Woodson is a success.

Harbaugh and Rhett are on the bench. Potts, coming off his best game as a Raven, barely played in Sunday's 12-8 loss to Tennessee. Coach Ted Marchibroda went more to a two-tight-end offense, even though Potts is a better blocker than Brian Kinchen.

Such decisions are likely to cost Marchibroda his job -- why bother trading third-round picks for Harbaugh and Rhett if they're not going to play? But the Ravens' problems run far deeper than the coach, inadequate as he might be.

Going 1-for-15 on third down is one thing.

Going 0-for-32 -- zero Super Bowls in 32 tries -- is quite another.

That's Modell's record with the Browns and Ravens. It doesn't lie. And it's not going to improve anytime soon.

How is it that the Ravens are fielding the NFL's second-lowest payroll in their first season at their new revenue-producing stadium?

Do they indeed plan to use the extra salary-cap room to negotiate contract extensions for Ray Lewis, Jermaine Lewis and other young stars?

Only Modell knows.

No one can deny the need for ownership participation with so many millions at stake. No one can deny the need for trusted expertise, either.

Unlike Angelos, Modell no longer even bothers awarding the title of general manager. "GMs, I don't believe in them," he said in 1996.

Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, more or less acts as the GM. But he doesn't claim to be the sole decision-maker, not when so many others are involved.

"It's always a combination of us all," he said yesterday. "Ultimately, the acquisition is my responsibility. But all our decisions, whether it's draft, trades, free agents -- we get everyone's input."

"Everyone" includes coaches, front-office types and ownership. The Orioles have just as many wannabe GMs. Is it any wonder that both organizations are in a constant state of flux?

The Ravens were 6-9-1 last season, yet they're starting only two new players -- Potts and Woodson. Their owner won't name a GM. Their coach won't name an offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Don Strock calls the passing plays, with input from Marchibroda and offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz on runs.

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis faces no such division of power -- the defense is his responsibility. And, coincidentally or not, it's the team's most successful unit.

On and on it goes.

Modell said Sunday that he was still "very upbeat" about his 2-3 Ravens. Angelos no doubt will express similar confidence when he names his new GM.

By now, you should know better.

By now, you should know the trouble starts at the top.

Camden Yards is the envy of the nation. Its sports teams should be, too.

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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