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Taking a look inside Orioles' inner sanctum

Behind scenes, Smouse is playing big role for Angelos, whose sons slip to background

February 09, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Add Jose Cruz, and the Orioles have made offers to four free agents this offseason and struck out each time. The public backlash has been fairly intense, especially since the club went into the offseason saying it needed to add at least one major run-producer to its sluggish lineup.

On the surface, Beattie and Flanagan don't have much to show for their two months in office. They have yet to swing a trade, and their biggest signings are Deivi Cruz, Omar Daal, Kerry Ligtenberg, Jeff Reboulet and John Valentin.

Internally, however, the early reviews of Beattie and Flanagan are still glowing.

"My observation is things are working very smoothly," Foss said. "There does not seem to be any movement to try to territorialize their duties. They're in most meetings together. They share ideas and are very comfortable with the decisions that are made.

"The office environment is exceptionally open. There is an enormous focus of a team of people in the front office. It's being done with a nice touch of humor and seriousness. They are two former professional athletes, and they're competitive, but it's a very positive approach. It makes it much more comfortable and enjoyable."

Former vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift had four special assistants, and of those four, only Kenney and Larry Himes remain. The Orioles fired Danny Garcia, and Mel Didier took a job with the Texas Rangers.

Himes is now a professional scout, and Kenney's influence has increased dramatically. His role is basically the equivalent to an assistant general manager, so he is third in command on the baseball side behind Beattie and Flanagan.

"It's been a whirlwind," Kenney said. "It's busier than it'll probably ever be with the changes that were made. But it's been a very smooth transition."

Kenney is working closely with Smouse in preparation for the arbitration hearings. If agreements aren't reached beforehand, the Orioles would have a hearing before a panel of independent arbitrators with Hairston (Wednesday), Ponson (Feb. 18) and Mora (Feb. 19).

The Orioles already have Smouse warming up in the bullpen.

The rise of Smouse

Smouse grew up in Oakland, Md., 90 miles from Pittsburgh, and one of his first loves was baseball. "I really lived and died by the Pirates," he said, "and that was a bad team."

The Orioles arrived in Baltimore in 1954, and Smouse has been a fan ever since.

After graduating from Princeton and the University of Maryland School of Law, he began his law career in 1958 with the U.S. Department of Justice. He was the chair of litigation at two prominent Baltimore law offices before joining Angelos' firm in 1993.

Smouse got the chance to combine his two loves - law and baseball - when Angelos bought the Orioles in August 1993. For the first few years, Smouse teamed with arbitration specialist Tal Smith on the club's cases, and the Orioles went 2-1, winning against Alan Mills and Leo Gomez, and losing to Ben McDonald.

Smouse took over the Orioles' lead role in 1996, working closely with his son Gregory, and since that time, the club has defeated Charles Johnson and high-powered agent Scott Boras twice, along with Tony Tarasco, Arthur Rhodes and, most recently, Jose Mercedes.

Several other players have settled right before their hearing, including Jeffrey Hammonds, who waited until Smouse opened his briefcase before their hearing in 1997.

"It's a job I enjoy a lot," Smouse said. "It combines both of my interests."

And when Smouse looks at the team's overall operation, with Beattie and Flanagan on board, he sees the ingredients for success.

"Jim and Mike really complement each other, and they work well together," Smouse said. "I think they make a great team."

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