After years of operating with an ailing farm system, the Orioles moved to fix that yesterday by hiring a man nicknamed Doc.
Darrell "Doc" Rodgers, who helped restore a barren Cincinnati Reds farm system in recent years, joined the Orioles as their new director of minor-league operations.
Rodgers, 40, spent six seasons as the Reds' assistant general manager before receiving a surprise demotion in October. For the past three months, he was working in a scouting capacity, as a special assistant to Reds general manager Jim Bowden.
"[Rodgers] was very impressive in the interview," said Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie. "He really came across very well with his background and experience. We're very fortunate to make this hire."
Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan have made the farm system a top priority since being hired in early December. One week after taking office, they re-assigned Don Buford, who spent three years running the farm system under former vice president Syd Thrift.
Buford, who played with the Orioles from 1968 to 1972, was the highest-ranking African-American member of the baseball operations department.
Under Buford and Thrift, the farm system continued to struggle as it has for much of the past 20 years. Since Cal Ripken reached the big leagues in 1981, the Orioles have drafted and developed just one position player who went on to become an All-Star: Steve Finley.
Last year, the Orioles reached new lows as their top three affiliates - Triple-A Rochester, Double-A Bowie and Single-A Frederick - finished a combined 109 games under .500. Rochester ended its 42-year affiliation with the Orioles after a fifth consecutive losing season.
This could be another bleak year. Asked recently if there were any minor-league position prospects who might make a difference at the big-league level this year, one Orioles official flatly replied, "No."
But Rodgers is undeterred.
"This is just another opportunity, a challenge to get the organization back to where fans expect it to be," Rodgers said. "A lot of people in baseball think this organization is on the right track."
With Rodgers as assistant GM, Cincinnati went from having one of the worst minor-league systems to one of the best. Baseball America, a respected industry publication that graded the Orioles' minor-league system with an "F" this fall, gave the Reds' farm system a "B."
"It's not one person doing that," said Rodgers, who oversaw player development and scouting as assistant GM. "It's a lot of great minds."
Rodgers never reached the major leagues as a player, but he was a minor-league pitcher for six years, the final three with the Reds. He spent 1991 and 1992 as a minor-league pitching coach before joining the Reds' front office.
The surprising part of Rodgers' recent demotion was he had been rumored as a potential successor to Bowden. Rodgers insists he has no hard feelings toward the Reds. "That's my family," he said.
Beattie said Tripp Norton will remain in his role as assistant farm director. Buford's new role has yet to be determined. Tony DeMacio remains the scouting director, and Ed Kenney has emerged as the top assistant to Flanagan and Beattie.
Next, Rodgers will sit down with that group to pick the minor-league managing and coaching staff. Single-A Delmarva manager Joe Ferguson, a loyal Thrift subject, has been told that he won't be back despite finishing last season with a 76-64 record. Most of the other changes probably won't be as dramatic.
"There will be some re-assignments within the organization," Beattie said. "We'll have good reason for doing it."
NOTES: Beattie continues to talk with Jeff Moorad, the agent for catcher Ivan Rodriguez, but neither side has budged in its negotiations. "We keep dipping our toe in the water," Beattie said, somewhat hopefully.