WHILE THE Orioles are still involved in a search for a general manager, they might look for a new image in Major League Baseball, as well as the community.
The Orioles need a cultural change.
If they don't get one, they'll be close to Cincinnati Bengals status soon. The Orioles have had five straight losing seasons, and Baltimore is no longer an attractive place for top-notch free agents. Owner Peter Angelos' meddlesome reputation hangs over this club like a dark cloud.
In Cincinnati, Bengals fans have asked owner Mike Brown to fire himself. Haven't Orioles fans been asking Angelos to do the same thing in Baltimore for years?
What might change this image?
Well, Angelos could step up and say he will turn the everyday operations over to his new general manager.
But that probably won't happen.
The image problem is glaring.
There is no buzz around this town about finding a GM replacement for Syd Thrift because everyone assumes Angelos will still interfere.
Instead, there is more anticipation about whether Ray Lewis can take off his shoulder pads in practice each day, and the start of the college basketball season at the University of Maryland.
Angelos, though, is only part of the problem. This team just isn't public relations conscious, or maybe the Orioles just don't care. They could have turned this GM search into a major event to perk fan interest.
Let's look at the Philadelphia Phillies. Soon after the season, GM Ed Wade came out and let the fans know that the team was going to be active in the free-agent market, and which players they were going to pursue. It was all part of a mapped-out strategy as the Phillies head into a new stadium.
Last week, Wade was the most popular guy at league meetings, and the city of Philadelphia was buzzing. The Orioles should have created similar excitement.
This search created the perfect opportunity for Angelos to erase some of the negative feelings about him in the community. He is often depicted as stubborn and argumentative, an intimidating owner whose legacy appears to be only the dismantling of a great franchise and the running off of successful general managers Pat Gillick and Frank Wren, manager Davey Johnson and popular broadcaster Jon Miller.
Angelos, or some member of the organization, could be on nightly talk radio shows making this an event, discussing the search and what the club is looking for in candidates.
Is it someone with a proven track record, or are the Orioles looking for the next bright young mind in baseball? How many of the candidates have built a team from the ground up?
Instead, there is no excitement. We do know that two people are doing the interview, Angelos and Russell Smouse, the Orioles' general legal counsel.
That's great if the Orioles were looking for a partner to join a law firm, but what baseball people are involved in the decision?
Is Thrift playing any role in seeking his replacement?
Who, if any, are the outside consultants?
We only know that last week Angelos met with Detroit Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, former Montreal Expos GM Jim Beattie, Arizona Diamondbacks assistant GM Sandy Johnson and former Chicago White Sox GM Ron Schueler. Two days ago, Angelos reportedly sat down with Roger Jongewaard, the Seattle Mariners' vice president of scouting and player development, and David Wilder, the Milwaukee Brewers' special assignment scout.
Of course, the No. 1 priority is finding an evaluator of talent, but also high on the list is having a person who can convey the club's message. Thrift was a public relations nightmare. After dumping veterans such as B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark and Charles Johnson in July 2000, the Orioles came out with the slogan of "Come See The Kids Play." Some kids: Old Mike Bordick, older Cal Ripken.
Last season was all about the Baby Birds.
Now, where is the next blueprint? What is the plan?
The Orioles have an image of incompetence, and actually, we're back to the same question that has hung over the franchise for more than a decade: Who will be responsible for the final decisions? Will it be the new GM or will it be Angelos?
There is a Bengals odor in the air.
There is strong belief that former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan, who has interviewed with the Boston Red Sox for their GM position, will become the next Orioles GM.
He has been in training with the Orioles for years, is media savvy and can perform the balancing act between making decisions and pleasing Angelos. He also could find a way to somehow bridge the gap between the club and getting Ripken back involved with the organization, another potential public relations nightmare.
The club itself is still entrenched in the community. Last year the Orioles gave out 13,000 books to first-graders in Baltimore and Washington. The team was involved in summer reading programs in 19 counties. More than 18,000 free tickets were given away to kids, and more than 27,000 players participated in three Little League days. Orioles players, past and present, made more than 250 public appearances in the past year.
But if the club really wants to rekindle Orioles Magic, it's going to take a huge effort that won't bring success overnight. It's going to start with bringing in a quality, charismatic GM, and the owner has to somehow publicly convey that his interfering days are over.
Only then will the image begin to change.