O's GM by committee is bad decision

November 05, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Now that the Orioles have hired a proven winner as manager, their next step should be to hire a respected baseball man as general manager, director of baseball operations, chief yes man -- whatever they want to call it.

Actually, they should have hired the GM first, but that's a lost battle. The idea of a GM putting his stamp on the organization is a lost battle. Everything involving the GM is a lost battle, at least the way things currently stand.

Owner Peter Angelos is going to do it his way, and if that means operating with a general manager by committee -- 40 percent of which is composed of his sons -- so be it.

The committee idea -- with the owner having the final say -- isn't unprecedented. In fact, it's basically the model employed by the world champion New York Yankees, with two important differences.

One, the Yankees are owner George Steinbrenner's only business. He's not distracted by a booming law practice or various other projects. For better or worse, he's on the scene, badgering employees, making decisions.

Two, the Yankees' brain trust is a collection of top baseball minds, from GM Brian Cashman to former GM Gene Michael to director of baseball operations Mark Newman, who recently was promoted over Cashman.

Depending on the day, Steinbrenner's advisers also include scouting director Lin Garrett, director of player personnel Billy Connors, director of international and professional scouting Gordon Blakeley and manager Joe Torre.

It's a formidable group.

Especially formidable, when compared to the five-man Orioles committee -- executive vice president John Angelos, chairman's representative Louis Angelos, director of player personnel Syd Thrift, scouting director Tony DeMacio and farm director Tom Trebelhorn.

Neither of Angelos' sons has prior experience in baseball. Thrift hasn't been a GM since 1988. DeMacio and Trebelhorn are respected, but in this setup, how much power do they even wield?

Assistant GM Bruce Manno is probably the Orioles executive most qualified to make decisions. But he is not even a member of the committee, apparently because he committed the crime of being hired by former GM Frank Wren.

Whether the Orioles will even hire a replacement for Wren is in question -- Thrift appears to be the de facto GM, and John Angelos said Wednesday that the committee will remain intact, at least temporarily.

If nothing else, the arrangement more accurately reflects the Orioles' operation in recent years, seemingly confirming suspicions held by previous GMs and rival executives about the influence of Thrift and Angelos' sons.

It's all out in the open now. Angelos no longer has a general manager to blame, and Thrift and Angelos' sons suddenly are something they've never been before:

Accountable.

If they're smart, they will surround themselves with more quality baseball people and urge Peter Angelos to act quickly when the need arises, so the Orioles can be a step ahead for a change instead of a step behind.

The problem is, quality baseball people have opinions, and dissent inside the warehouse amounts to political suicide. With Wren in Atlanta and Pat Gillick in Seattle, it's even possible the Orioles might suffer further organizational hits soon.

Meanwhile, the committee arrangement offers no system of checks and balances, leaving little room for creative tension. It is no way to run a major-league club -- or any successful business, for that matter.

Again, consider the Yankees.

The Cashman faction in New York and the Newman faction in Tampa are at constant odds, vying for Steinbrenner's attention. It doesn't always make for a healthy working environment. But at least it makes for healthy discussion.

By definition, the Orioles' arrangement is cumbersome -- there isn't a committee on earth that acts as swiftly as a sole decision-maker. Angelos' frequent lack of availability -- and tendency to put off decisions -- only compounds the problem.

Even when the Orioles had a GM, they cost themselves millions by waiting to negotiate with Brady Anderson. They lost Rafael Palmeiro by allowing him to become a free agent. And they struck out on Robin Ventura while they were desperately trying to play catch-up with Palmeiro.

The committee already has had one major setback, failing to land an interview with managerial candidate Phil Garner. At the time the Detroit Tigers pounced on Garner, the Orioles were busy offering reassurance to employees reeling from the firings of Wren and manager Ray Miller.

Now come the general managers' meetings, beginning Sunday in Laguna Niguel, Calif. The Orioles are too burdened with long-term contracts and no-trade clauses to be much of a player. Perhaps it's a good thing.

No one disputes that the owner must be a principal decision maker in this era of corporate baseball. But if Angelos wants to run the Orioles this way, the least he can do is give himself every possible chance to succeed.

Hire smart baseball men that he and his sons deem trustworthy. Listen to their opinions, then act judiciously and expediently on their recommendations.

There's no one left to fire, no one ready to be hired.

Angelos, his sons, Thrift -- they're all accountable now.

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