You'll be blue if you hold your breath waiting for Orioles to make a decision


September 26, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

In late October 1995, the Orioles hired Davey Johnson to be their new manager and then waited almost a month to hire Pat Gillick to be the general manager.

Team Decisive ate up nearly a half of the offseason putting its front office in order, but the Orioles went on to reach the American League Championship Series two years in a row.

Apparently, Peter Angelos knows a winning management strategy when he sees it.

He has made a habit of taking too long to make critical decisions - and he has those two ALCS appearances a decade ago to prove that dithering is a highly underrated corporate tactic - so why should this year be any different? The interim manager continues to twist. So do the vice president and executive vice president of baseball operations. And so do all of us who are wondering if there is any point in even hoping that a new day will ever dawn for this beleaguered franchise.

Angelos will not be rushed, of course. That's part of the management style that has created a team so paralyzed that one opposing general manager told me last spring that it had become pointless to talk trade with the Orioles because it was too much trouble trying to figure out who was authorized to make a decision.

Need a front-line starting pitcher? The St. Louis Cardinals negotiated the deal for Mark Mulder last winter in a matter of days. If he had been offered to the O's, the medicals might still be sitting on some desk over in the law office.

The Orioles play in the most challenging division in baseball, and they start every season - to steal a contorted cliche from talk-show host Rush Limbaugh - with half their brain tied behind their back.

This is not news, of course, but it bears examination at another critical juncture in the tortured recent history of a franchise that once was a model of solid baseball management. Maybe getting trounced by the Yankees and Red Sox for a week will finally wake a certain somebody up.

The Orioles were able to reach the ALCS in 1996 after spending much of the offseason reassembling the front office because the core of the team already was solid and Gillick was given - temporarily - carte blanche to add the remaining pieces necessary to make it a strong contender.

If you recall, one of his first big moves was to sign Roberto Alomar, who was one of the five best players in the game at the time. The Orioles also had Cal Ripken near his prime, a young Mike Mussina at the head of the starting rotation and a clubhouse full of veterans with postseason experience.

It also was a time when Angelos still was relatively new to the baseball business, just a few years removed from buying the Orioles at auction. He still seemed willing to let the "baseball professionals" make the big decisions, and he also was determined to spend whatever was necessary to keep the team in contention.

Those were halcyon days, indeed, but something happened during that 1996 season that changed everything and created the strange management environment in which the Orioles' organization still resides. Angelos overruled the most respected GM in baseball on a pair of rebuilding deals while the team was stuck near .500 at midseason ... and he turned out to be right.

The O's held on to Bobby Bonilla and David Wells and made several midseason acquisitions on the way to a late-season surge that propelled them to a wild-card playoff berth. The following season, they went wire-to-wire to win the AL East and reach the ALCS for the second year in a row. And the team has never recovered.

Angelos came away with the opinion that baseball management isn't "brain surgery" and proceeded - over the next eight years - to prove that it is. He has, at times, reined in the urge to call every significant front office shot, but he remains an intimidating presence who often rules by what amounts to a pocket veto - simply letting big decisions sit on his desk too long for his underlings to compete effectively with the nimble management teams of the more successful franchises.

The Orioles, meanwhile, continue to wither from neglect, and another lost offseason beckons.

In this case, it really isn't brain surgery. It's pretty simple, actually. It's time to take the interim label off Sam Perlozzo and decide on the composition of the front office.

Not next month.

Not in November.

Now, while there are a few of us around who still care.

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