Reasons given for dismissing Wren don't fly

October 08, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Have they no shame?

The Orioles spent most of the decade leaning on Cal Ripken to mask their various failings. And last night, to culminate one of the darkest days in franchise history, they attempted to use Ripken in the most cynical way imaginable.

It's going to backfire, just like everything else backfires under owner Peter Angelos. And yesterday will be forever known as Black Thursday, as opposed to Black Monday, the day Johnny Oates was dismissed in 1994, and Black Wednesday, the day Davey Johnson resigned in '97.

Pretty soon, Angelos will have every day of the week covered.

The firing of manager Ray Miller surprised perhaps only the oak tree himself, who only two days before had flattered Angelos one last time, gushing, "I trust in him completely."

The firing of general manager Frank Wren, however, turned yesterday into a warehouse-cleaning of epic proportions, even if every Orioles employee amounts to just a temp under Angelos, anyway.

The Orioles couldn't think of a valid reason for dismissing Wren, so they invented some, citing "a season-long series of incidents involving a variety of personnel matters, both with front office staff and players," according to vice chairman and chief operating officer Joe Foss.

Foremost among them, apparently, was "a recent episode of considerable concern" that occurred Sept. 17, when the Orioles were scheduled to fly to California for a three-game series with the Angels.

To make a long story short, Ripken got caught in traffic and was running late for the team's 8 a.m. flight. He called traveling secretary Phil Itzoe to assure him that he would be arriving within five to 10 minutes. Itzoe then informed Wren, who ordered the plane to take off on schedule, without Ripken.

At least that's the club version.

"In the opinion of management, there was no need for such an arbitrary and inflexible decision," Foss said in a news release, adding that Wren "defiantly dismissed our concerns" in a meeting Tuesday and "characterized them as `silly.' "

Bully for Wren.

Even as the Orioles attempted to spin one issue, they opened another.

"Cal was forced to make his own cross-country travel arrangements," Foss said. "He had to hurry to the Washington, D.C., airport, where he found a flight to Las Vegas and then had to take another flight to California, arriving hours after the team."

Poor Cal.

Perhaps no major-leaguer acts as his own travel agent more than Ripken, who occasionally takes his own flights and stays in hotels separate from the Orioles.

The double standard that the club allows for Ripken and his best friend, Brady Anderson, helped persuade Roberto Alomar to leave Baltimore, and to a lesser degree, Rafael Palmeiro, too.

Contrast the Orioles' approach with that of Boston Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, who refused to start Pedro Martinez this season when he was a late arrival at Fenway Park.

But let's not be detoured by the Oriole Way, a road to nowhere.

The issue isn't Ripken. And a player who so carefully protects his image probably isn't going to appreciate being dragged into his team's latest public relations mess.

If the Orioles aren't embarrassed that they are now working on their fourth GM in six years and their fifth manager in seven, they never will be.

Miller had to go, everyone knew that. But Wren had just completed the first year of a three-year contract, and seemed to be the one man in the organization with a solid vision of the future.

What difference did it make?

The only true function of an Angelos GM is to get fired.

Wren is actually only the second Angelos GM to meet that fate, joining Roland Hemond. Assistants Doug Melvin and Kevin Malone left to become GMs. Pat Gillick left to retire.

Miller was the third manager to be dismissed, joining Oates and Phil Regan. And yesterday's circus might have topped Johnson's resignation on the day he was named American League Manager of the Year.

Even though Miller was an Angelos favorite, the Orioles handled his dismissal in their usual sloppy fashion. Clueless Ray still believed he had a chance to return as of three days ago.

When Angelos apologists laud his commitment to winning, it's difficult to argue. But his greater commitment is to chaos, and his inability to treat good people with respect is his biggest failing.

It's not just the managers and GMs he runs through like a kid trading Pokemon cards. Anyone remember Jon Miller and John Lowenstein? Anyone seen Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson lately?

Wren will come out of this fine; he'll get a financial settlement and find another job in baseball, though probably not as a GM. Still, no amount of money is worth the aggravation he endured from Angelos.

Seriously, what was his crime?

It can't be that he wanted Miller fired, seeing that Angelos ultimately reached the same conclusion. It can't be that he signed Mike Timlin, seeing that Angelos committed the greater sin by ordering the acquisition of Albert Belle.

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