Malone, Dodgers: mismatch from start

ON BASEBALL

April 22, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Former Orioles executive Kevin Malone did the right thing on Thursday ... not that he had any other choice.

He resigned as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers after another unflattering display of his flamboyant personality left the club's ownership embarrassed and at the end of its patience. If he had not gracefully walked away, he would have been kicked out the door.

So what went wrong?

What was it that scuttled a meteoric front office career and left Malone unemployed and - presumably - hard-pressed to find another good job in baseball management?

The answer isn't very complicated, just as Malone isn't very complicated. He went to a place where the stage was too big for his act, then had trouble staying out of the spotlight.

He was the perfect GM for a team like the Montreal Expos - a young, inexpensive team starved for attention. Even when he said something outrageous, it was taken with a wink and a nod. Call it small-market comic relief.

When he was the assistant general manager of the Orioles, he remained under the watchful eye of mentor Pat Gillick. Malone was still outspoken, but he barely registered on the radar screen next to controversial owner Peter Angelos.

But he arrived in Los Angeles the way a lot of people arrive in Los Angeles - expecting to be a big star without really knowing what was required.`There's a new sheriff in town," he said upon his arrival.

That quote, and a few others, would come back to haunt him when the big-payroll Dodgers continued to underachieve during his tenure, but he might have survived if he had been able to keep his head down.

The Dodgers had installed a cadre of public relations types to shadow his every move this year, hoping to avoid any embarrassing moments with the media. It was obvious that he was one well-publicized screw-up away from getting the hook.

Of course, that came last weekend, when he got into a shouting match with a fan who was heckling Dodgers outfielder Gary Sheffield. Malone allegedly challenged the fan to a fight, and that spelled the end of his Dodgers career.

It is slightly ironic that the last time a Dodgers GM got deposed with so much fanfare, it was Al Campanis, for making ignorant generalizations about African-Americans. This time, Malone triggered his own undoing by standing up for a controversial African-American player who recently hinted that the organization had treated him differently than the club's white superstars.

But that wasn't really the reason that Malone was shown the door. It was the cumulative impact of several incidents combined with the so-so performance of a team with one of baseball's highest payrolls.

Malone's personal management philosophy probably fit the old Dodgers mold, but he abandoned it to hand Kevin Brown a record $105 million contract soon after he took the job, then continued to spend heavily without getting commensurate on-field results.

More than anything else, however, the Dodgers have always been about image, and Malone's brash front-office persona did not fit the profile of the typical Dodgers executive.

Get-rich-quick souvenir?

Once again, a debate has erupted over the fate of a historic home run ball - this time the one that Barry Bonds launched into San Francisco Bay for his 500th career homer on Tuesday night.

Giants fan Joseph Figone plucked it out of the water and quickly moved it into a safe deposit box until he decides what to do with it.

Bonds and the team want it to go to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Figone isn't saying what he'll do with it, but - based on the price paid at auctions for other historic balls - he may be able to get up to $500,000 for it.

What would you do?

"That should go to the Hall of Fame where everyone has the opportunity to see it," Bonds said. "But it's up to [Figone]. You see in the newspaper that you can get $500,000 for it, but come on. We earned it."

With all due respect and congratulations to Bonds on his history-making feat, he already has been paid to hit that home run. The ball belongs to Figone, who - you have to believe - could change his life considerably with a half a mil.

I'll stand by the same argument I used when Mark McGwire criticized a fan for selling one of his record-breaking balls. The players didn't hesitate to put their interests before those of the fans' during the disastrous 1994-95 baseball labor dispute. Why shouldn't a fan do the same thing when he's got a chance to improve the standard of living of himself and his family?

Sell the ball, Joe. If Barry cares that much, he can well afford to make sure it gets to the Hall of Fame.

Who is Luis Gonzalez?

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez may be the most anonymous big-time home run hitter in baseball, but he is getting harder and harder to ignore.

He hit his major-league-leading 10th home run on Tuesday - becoming the second-fastest player in major-league history to reach double figures - and appears poised to improve on his strong home run and RBI totals for the fourth straight season.

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