Rodgers set to plow into farm system

Orioles: Darrell Rodgers, 40, takes on a daunting task as the team's new director of minor-league operations.

Baseball

February 03, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

His office inside the B&O warehouse provides an obstructed view of the playing field at Camden Yards, the backside of the scoreboard in center field being large enough to block out the sun, let alone a pitching mound and dugouts.

This might be the only instance when Darrell "Doc" Rodgers can't see clearly.

Named the Orioles' director of minor-league operations on Jan. 14, Rodgers didn't stumble blindly into his new job. He knew about the collective records of the seven affiliates, the absence of impact players at the higher levels, the slew of injuries to pitching prospects. He also was aware of the farm system's poor reputation within an industry that tends to pile onto the Orioles like a recess scrum.

But instead of running for the door and leaving this mess behind him, Rodgers has rolled up his sleeves.

"You take in all the information you have - good and bad - and you come in and say, `OK, what's real and what's not?' And I found out what's real is that there are a lot of good baseball people here. There are a lot of things we do to develop players that are already in place, so I've been very, very impressed," Rodgers said.

"You wonder what's really going on, and I think a lot more positive things have been going on than what's out there. And part of our job now is to get some of that out there and make sure people know we have some things in place to develop major- league players."

Perhaps his steely reserve, and the ability to find good in just about everything, comes from his years with the Cincinnati Reds. Working for controversial owner Marge Schott, whose insensitive remarks toward minorities got her suspended from baseball and later forced her to relinquish control of the franchise, Rodgers was accustomed to tip-toeing through brushfires without feeling the heat.

It took a curious demotion with the Reds in October to light the most intense fire under Rodgers. The title change seemed insignificant on the surface - from assistant general manager to special assistant to the GM - but his duties were confined to scouting. Once rumored as a potential successor to Reds GM Jim Bowden, he wasn't even allowed to move into the club's new stadium.

"I just listened to what I was told, that I was being reassigned so they could take advantage of my evaluation abilities," said Rodgers, 40, who had another year left on his contract. "When your contribution has been so much more, obviously it's going to be a shock to hear that, but the people you work for have the right to do what they think is best for the organization. And as an employee, you have the right to either accept it or ask for permission to move on.

"When they tell you that you're going to work out of your home, and in a sense you're going to scout for us now, I know I can make a bigger contribution to an organization than that."

Leland Maddox, the Reds' director of scouting and a close friend, said he sensed Rodgers was "hurt and shocked by it."

"I personally told him to see it as an opportunity to spend more time at home - his wife just had a baby - and go with the punches and see what happened at the end," he said.

The O's interview

A month after changing positions, Rodgers received permission from Bowden to find another job. After contacting every club, he interviewed for about two hours with Orioles executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, who already had reassigned farm director Don Buford. Rodgers was hired four days later.

Rodgers was the last of three candidates interviewed. "Doc stood out with his experience, with his ideas for player development and his personality," Beattie said. "He's someone who can lead a staff with confidence, understanding what it takes to make things work at the minor-league level."

Though disappointed in the direction his career took in Cincinnati, Rodgers never sounds bitter when recounting his final days. He's quick with a smile and oozes personality despite a quiet manner that he acknowledges can be misunderstood.

"He's a versatile, bright guy," Maddox said. "He's a class act, a fine human being with good character. When I first got there, he didn't like me because I'm extroverted and straightforward. I'm a West Coast guy; he's a Texas guy. But even though he didn't like me, he still listened to me. He never let personal stuff get in the way of business. And then we end up becoming very, very good friends."

With Rodgers as assistant GM, the Reds' farm system went from being one of the worst in baseball to earning a B this fall from Baseball America - the same publication that gave the Orioles an F. Under his direction, the Reds established baseball academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

But to Rodgers, the significance of what transpired in Cincinnati extended beyond one individual.

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