Orioles fire Wren, Miller after '99 flop

GM's surprise ouster blamed on refusal to hold plane for Ripken

October 08, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos fired first-year general manager Frank Wren yesterday along with announcing the expected dismissal of manager Ray Miller.

By doing so, he extended his postseason shake-up beyond his handpicked manager's door and into the organization's front office. Among the reasons given in an official announcement of Wren's firing was his declining to hold a plane several minutes for Cal Ripken as the team set out on a road trip to the West Coast in September.

Club sources disclosed that Wren was notified Wednesday night of the owner's decision, with the formal news release coming last night. Wren arrived at Camden Yards yesterday with legal counsel to discuss a settlement with team attorneys and chief operating officer Joe Foss.

The parties met for about four hours before Wren returned home to await a fax with the club's modified offer.

Reached at his Severna Park residence last night, Wren confirmed his ouster but would not elaborate because of ongoing negotiations.

"I had a feeling something was going on [Wednesday]," said Wren, the third general manager dismissed during Angelos' six-year stewardship of the club. "I had a feeling what was being contemplated. It wasn't really a surprise."

Angelos offered no comment concerning Wren to a WMAR-TV reporter yesterday afternoon. The same applied to other club executives, apparently because of ongoing negotiations.

"I'm shocked. I don't know what to say. This is so unbelievable," said one out-of-town Orioles employee.

Every team employee contacted expressed surprise, even embarrassment, at yesterday's events, though Wren said he had sensed the end last week after discussing Miller's status with Angelos. The situation came to a head during a meeting Tuesday with Foss and general counsel Russell Smouse "to come to an agreement on how everyone involved could work together for the upcoming season."

The Orioles acknowledged Miller's firing in a seven-paragraph statement. Angelos credited Miller with much of the team's success in 1997 when Miller served as pitching coach.

"Ray Miller is a gentleman and a fine baseball man, and I appreciate his efforts and the contributions he has made over the years to the Orioles organization," Angelos' statement read. "My best wishes go out to him in his future endeavors."

The 13th manager in team history, Miller compiled a 157-167 record and two fourth-place seasons as Orioles manager. This season, the $84 million Orioles finished 78-84 and 20 games out of first place. Under terms of Miller's contract, the club would have been required to exercise the option in his contract for next season before yesterday; however, Miller said Tuesday night that he had waived the provision.

Miller received $100,000 termination pay. Details of Wren's settlement remain unclear. Only one year into a three-year, $1.65 million contract, Wren will likely receive a fraction of the remaining $1.1 million.

Angelos, reached yesterday evening, was asked if he interpreted the personnel moves as some kind of a fresh start.

"No, it's one more little bump in the road on the way to establishing a successful operation that will produce what we all desire -- a winner," he said.

In describing the departure of Miller, he said: "We had no obligation to do anything in the way of a termination. In the contract, there was a 72-hour option, and we let the contract expire and thereby it was dissolved automatically. I gave Ray a letter of thanks and explained to him that we were not going to renew the agreement, and he put the letter in his pocket before he left the office."

Several times Angelos had stiff-armed Wren's suggestions to fire Miller -- Wren first urged that it be done only 15 games into the season. By August, however, Angelos was telling associates that Miller would be fired after the season.

Assured when hired that he would control Miller's fate, Wren demanded control of the hiring of the new manager, according to sources familiar with the situation. The issue apparently widened old fissures between the two. Their final conversation on Sunday was curt.

"This [manager] is going to be the owner's hire," said a team source. "Frank couldn't accept that. I think it represented the final blow to his pride as general manager."

Wren, 41, was hired Oct. 23 from a well-regarded pool of four candidates to replace Pat Gillick. Wren had served as the Florida Marlins' assistant general manager during the franchise's rapid rise from expansion team to World Series champions. He immediately set about conducting an organizational "transition," given 11 free agents, a 79-83 fourth-place finish in 1998 and aging players.

Almost immediately, Wren and Angelos came into conflict. Wren was blamed for what Angelos considered the imprudent signings of closer Mike Timlin and second baseman Delino DeShields to long-term contracts. Timlin struggled badly during the season's first half.

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