Wren should manage a say in O's hiring

September 01, 1999|By John Eisenberg

If there's any lesson in the exchange of criticisms between Orioles GM Frank Wren and manager Ray Miller that has made headlines, it's this:

The general manager, and no one else, should be in charge of hiring and firing the manager.

When you undermine that routine chain of command, as the Orioles have repeatedly, you end up with people on different pages.

With different visions.

Covering their rears.

That's no way to build a winning foundation.

And the Orioles' foundation is what's really wrong with them, more than any short-term problems involving the bullpen or a lack of speed.

Miller has called the 1999 team "dysfunctional," a criticism few would dispute, but for real, lasting dysfunction, check this out: It's been eight years since the Orioles' GM hired the manager.

Eight years since the franchise followed standard operating procedure and had a manager and GM on the same page, if you will.

And you wonder why they've ended up battling the Devil Rays for last place in the American League East this season?

A good place to start righting the wrong is with the managerial change expected to begin with Miller's ouster after this season.

Wren, and no one else, should be responsible for hiring a replacement.

After subverting that chain of command for years, it's time to go through appropriate channels.

The last time the Orioles' GM was left alone to hire a manager was in May 1991, when Roland Hemond named Johnny Oates to replace Frank Robinson.

Since then, the GM, supposedly the architect of the on-field product, has had little or no impact on any of the Orioles' managerial choices.

Phil Regan, who replaced Oates, was hired by a search team led by vice chairman Joe Foss, with Hemond just one of four decision-makers.

Davey Johnson, who replaced Regan, was hired when the team didn't even have a GM in fall 1995.

Miller, who replaced Johnson, was the choice of owner Peter G. Angelos. Then-GM Pat Gillick didn't even attend the news conference.

Yes, as the Orioles proved in 1996 and 1997, a team can still have winning seasons doing business in such a backward fashion. But over the long haul, it's no way to run a team.

Why even have a person in charge of the on-field product if he can't pick the manager?

Wren has often asked himself that question this season, no doubt, seeing as he reportedly wanted to fire Miller several times but wasn't allowed.

Whatever Angelos' reasoning was on that call, he now needs to leave Wren alone to hire the manager -- providing he's going to keep Wren as GM, of course.

Yes, Wren is a rookie who has made his share of mistakes contributing to the Orioles' poor season, but he also has had his moments in 1999 (several good trades, a quality draft, a stockpiling of young arms) and he deserves the chance to hire a manager.

He doesn't deserve to be stuck with a losing manager he inherited and couldn't fire. No GM deserves that.

All this might prove moot if fired Milwaukee manager Phil Garner ends up being the choice. Given that Angelos has long admired Garner and that Garner is a quality candidate, Wren could make a choice that's politically correct with his boss and also correct as a baseball move. Nifty.

But if it turns out Wren doesn't want Garner, for whatever reason, Angelos needs to stand back and defer to his GM.

That's obviously not Angelos' style, but with his regime's credibility at a low ebb after so many dubious moves, he'd better start showing the fans things can be done properly and intelligently.

What's happening now, with Wren and Miller pointing fingers at each other in the papers, is just one of the negatives that can emerge when the proper chain of command isn't followed.

There also are more disputes about how to use personnel, how to run the team, how to do everything, basically.

It's better to have the GM accountable for the manager's performance as well as his own. Better to have them on the same management team instead of different ones with different visions.

Isn't that obvious?

Neither Wren nor Miller waswrong in his complaints voiced last weekend; Miller was right that the Orioles had flaws before a pitch was thrown this season, and Wren was right that the season still should have gone better.

Remember, it takes a lot of bad decisions by a lot of people to have a team go this wrong with an $84 million payroll.

But though those complaints were reflective of short-term problems, a larger, underlying problem is how the Orioles have hired their managers in the '90s -- going over and around the GM, basically.

You can check the standings to see how it's worked out.

It's time to go back to basics.

Pub Date: 9/01/99

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