Will Wren's vision ever see light?

October 24, 1998|By John Eisenberg

Frank Wren is under the impression that he has all the authority he needs as the Orioles' new general manager.

We will see.

He is under the impression that he is free to hire whoever he wants as a scouting director, personnel director and assistant GM.

We will see.

He is under the impression that he can go thumbs up or down on manager Ray Miller as early as next year, and if necessary, hire a replacement.

We will see.

After Pat Gillick's and Kevin Malone's experience of having major trades vetoed and Miller forced on them after Davey Johnson's resignation, why should anyone believe that Wren is going to be granted a typical GM's authority?

After having Peter Angelos' sons sit next to him on the dais when he was introduced yesterday at Camden Yards, why should anyone believe that Wren will be left free to implement his vision for the Orioles?

If Gillick, with his peerless track record, didn't get the chance, Wren, a rookie GM, surely won't. The Orioles just don't operate that way anymore, regardless of who is sitting in their GM's office.

Among the candidates who interviewed for the job with Angelos, only Dan O'Dowd, an assistant GM with the Indians, was blunt in demanding for the right to implement his vision. He also was more pointed in his questioning of the front office's habits.

He didn't get the job, you will notice. And the Orioles interviewed only one of a series of available candidates with prior experience as a GM, which, translated, meant available candidates with potentially strong opinions and demands.

Fairly or not, that leaves Wren vulnerable to doubts about whether he'll be the strong, independent voice the Orioles desperately need, or merely a functionary for Angelos.

We will see.

"I don't see that this club operates any differently from any other," Wren said yesterday. "I see a very normal operation. The xTC day-to-day, routine business is mine. When something major comes up, I'll run it up to ownership. That's what happens on any other club."

But what doesn't happen on any other club is the owner feuding with the Manager of the Year, accepting his resignation and handpicking a replacement with a losing record.

What doesn't happen on any other club is the owner overruling a GM's decision to play for the future when that's obviously the way to go.

"I talked about a lot of scenarios with [Angelos] during our discussions," Wren said. "I was comfortable with what he said. And he obviously was comfortable with me."

We will see.

If it's true Angelos finally has found a baseball executive that he likes, respects and will leave alone, that's a positive step. But who believes such is the case?

And if he really is going to leave Wren alone, why didn't he give Gillick, one of baseball's brightest minds, that freedom?

Ah, well, it's too late now. Wren, 40, has no track record as a GM, but he has a positive reputation developed in the front offices of the Expos and Marlins.

"He's solid," another major-league GM said yesterday.

His strength is in developing prospects, an art the Orioles desperately need to hone. A typical Wren team, he said, will be "strong on pitching and athleticism."

He is well-connected -- recommended by Jim Leyland -- he has faith in his opinions and he will have a major impact on the club, as Gillick and Malone did, regardless of Angelos' involvement. He will make many key personnel decisions, sign free agents, shape the roster.

Just as Gillick was accountable for hits such as Roberto Alomar and misses such as Doug Drabek, Wren will be accountable, too. He will have fun spending one of baseball's biggest payrolls after experiencing the depressing dismantling of the Marlins.

That's why he wanted the job so badly, potential headaches and all.

"I don't know of anyone in their right mind in my position who wouldn't want to be the GM of the Baltimore Orioles," he said.

Point made. It's better to have problems and money than problems and no money, particularly in today's baseball economy.

But the whole point of being a GM is to get to do important stuff such as hire a manager, make trades, sign free agents, hire a farm director and plan for the future. Gillick never hired a manager for the Orioles, not even when there was an opening last year. He never hired a farm director. He had key trades blocked.

It's no coincidence that he's gone now, replaced by Wren and a series of simple, haunting questions: Is this a new era? Or is it just the same, old era with a new face?

Pub Date: 10/24/98

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