Thrift dismisses rumors of his dismissal

April 25, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

ORIOLES vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift walked onto the field and shook hands. He then went behind the batting cage and mingled with Orioles coaches and Boston Red Sox coaches.

He was pleasant, and at times extremely upbeat. There wasn't any nervousness in his voice, and no stress in his face. If Thrift was a man about to be fired, he didn't sound like it yesterday.

With Thrift, now in his eighth season in the same capacity with the team, there are always rumors about him getting fired. Death, taxes, presidential scandals and Thrift getting canned.

The rumors about his dismissal were strong Monday.

"The world is full of rumors, and it's always been like that," said Thrift, smiling. "Rumors, rumors, rumors ...

"If you've done your homework, know what you're doing, then you don't pay attention to what anyone else says," Thrift said. "Because if they knew what I knew, they wouldn't have to write [letters of criticism], then they would be doing my job. When you lose, you take the shots. That's all right. I'm a big boy."

Thrift and his boss, Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos, have been enduring criticism for years. After four straight losing seasons and fourth-place finishes, they have become sports public enemy figures 1 and 1A in Baltimore.

Their critics say there is no place for the Orioles to go but down as long as Angelos owns the team and Thrift runs it. Thrift has a much different opinion despite an 8-12 record, a .233 team batting average, no legitimate power hitter and one of the worst-rated minor-league systems in baseball.

This city is starved for a winner in baseball. As the appetite grows, the attendance decreases at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. When the Yankees and Red Sox aren't in town, parts of the ballpark could be used for a parking lot. The Orioles now have more promotional nights than the Blast.

Duffel Bag Night is in early May.

"The talent right now exceeds the record, and that's a normal thing," Thrift said. "When you have young players, you have peaks and valleys, that's a normal thing. That's why one day we score nine runs, the next day we get shut down. The good news is that they all will get better as the season progresses. The other night [a 7-5 Orioles win over Boston on Tuesday night] we saw good hitting, base running, defense and pitchers that did their jobs. We'll see that more consistently as this team gets older."

Thrift says there is a solid nucleus of young players to build around. He points to outfielders like Jay Gibbons and Gary Matthews, pitchers Jorge Julio and Rodrigo Lopez, second baseman Jerry Hairston and catcher Geronimo Gil.

But some of them seem to be more of a complementary nature than players to build around. Top free agents won't come here until the Orioles start winning again, or show significant signs of progress.

"If you have less than six years, then you're still a young player," said Thrift. "Gibbons has a real chance of being a superior player. He has worked hard to become a good defensive player. Tony Batista is relatively still young. Matthews has unbelievable talent; a guy who, if he were a football player, might make a good wide receiver or running back. He just needs to play. Gil is a young catcher who has power, and he will eventually hit."

When?

And when will this team finally start to turn it around?

Maybe some progress was made last night as the Orioles again defeated Boston, 5-3. The Orioles play the Red Sox again today before a three-game series in Kansas City.

"That's totally unpredictable," said Thrift. "Each player progresses at his own rate. We could have easily won three more games this season. As far as having a winning team, we have to first become a .500 team, which means winning 81 games."

Thrift apparently plans to be with the Orioles when that happens. He is in his early 70s and doesn't have any retirement plans. He prefers the hot seat to retirement and a hot tub.

"I don't get tired of the criticism," said Thrift. "It's part of the sports world. I have that kind of job. When you win, you're smart. When you lose, you're dumb. That's the reality. But I've been down this road before. The same people who knock you will be the same ones who boost you.

"I think Quincy Jones said the definition of age depends on your reaction to a new idea. I've been very flexible, and age is an irrelevant thing. I think it's about your attitude, the passion in what you do. I'm excited about this team, what they can be, and what they will be. What time is that going to happen? I don't know, and that's the truth."

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