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Rolling with punches Frank Wren: The first-time general manager feels prepared for his task with the Orioles. It took a brain tumor as a player, a near-miss at the Padres' GM job and more to get here.

October 31, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Citing his own experiences, Expos general manager Murray Cook persuaded Wren to take the job. He was impressive enough that then-Expos director of player development Jim Fanning predicted to Wren that he would be a major-league GM within 10 years.

"He's a bright guy who understands the game from a playing standpoint. He can do anything," says Fanning, now a Rockies scout.

Within four years, Wren was named assistant scouting director then handed additional responsibilities of supervising the Expos' director of Latin American scouting and operations, which included a training facility in the Dominican Republic.

A proving ground for a number of young executives, the Expos were aggressive in scouting and player development. At 32, Dave Dombrowski graduated to vice president of player personnel in 1988. When Dombrowski was named the Marlins' first general manager in September 1991, he waited only 11 days before hiring Wren as his assistant.

"Once I became an assistant general manager I set a personal goal of becoming a general manager by the time I was 40. There were a couple times when I thought it would happen. I really felt it was an attainable goal," Wren says.

"I was able to cross over into every department on the way up. I started as a player, went into player development and minor-league operation, went to the scouting department, went into the Latin American department and then the major-league department. I spent a minimum of three years in every one of them. I think that's a pretty unique quality," he says.

Near-miss in San Diego

Wren almost beat Fanning's timetable in 1995 when he was offered the job as Padres general manager. However, his push to make significant internal changes caused the club to rethink its position, revoke its offer and instead promote scouting director Kevin Towers, a younger man than Wren.

"I know now I wasn't nearly as well prepared then as I am now," Wren says.

"I learned a great deal from that situation. The first thing I learned is that as a first-time general manager you can't call the shots of a veteran GM. You have to go in and be adaptable. You've got your own ideas and ways you do things, but that only goes so far. I think as first-time GM you have to accept that," says Wren.

At the same time, Wren resents insinuations he has been hired as a lackey by an ownership with little use for independent thinking.

Of his interview with majority owner Peter Angelos, Wren says, "I asked tough questions of Peter and he asked tough questions of But at the same time, it's not a negative to be able to work with people."

The three years since his near-miss in San Diego have helped him deal with a variety of situations, some exhilarating, others traumatic. The mandated purge of talent in Florida remains a sore topic, especially when he is classified as an enthusiastic henchman.

"Frank has experienced more -- good and bad -- than many baseball people have in twice the amount of time," Daugherty says.

Those who know him well insist Wren is intelligent enough to adapt to any situation -- "He can wire your house for you if need be," says Daugherty -- and engaging enough to create a consensus where rancor might otherwise occur.

Angelos, and the task ahead

While Angelos has not spoken publicly about his new hire, club officials say it was his "gut feeling" about Wren that caused him to offer the job. The opportunity fulfills the predictions of many who have met him. Signed to a three-year contract, it now falls to Wren to fulfill predictions of success.

"It's a challenge for anybody," states Dombrowski. "Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, but here's someone who has been exposed to every facet of the organization. He has dealt with scouts, player development, the media. He has involvement with computers. Maybe somebody who has been a GM for years hasn't dealt with computers."

"The disadvantage you have as general manager is simple," Wren says. "The decisions you make stop with you. When you're the assistant, they don't."

Frank Wren file

Age: 40.

Home: Parkland, Fla.

Wife: Terri. Children: 3 sons; Jordan, 4, and twins Kyle and Colby, 7.

Career

Marlins: Joined Florida on Sept. 30, 1991, as assistant general manager after spending the previous 15 years with the Montreal Expos' organization. Assisted general manager Dave Dombrowski in all areas, including talent evaluation.

Expos: Began his front-office career in 1985 as general manager of the Jamestown Expos of the New York-Penn League and later became Expos assistant scouting director. In 1989, was appointed director of Latin American scouting and operations. Expos farm system was twice cited as the Organization of the Year by Baseball America during his tenure.

Player, coach: After being recruited out of St. Petersburg Junior College, played center field in the Expos' organization in 1977 and reached Double-A before retiring in 1981. Coached in the Expos' system from 1981 to '84.

Pub Date: 10/31/98

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