Big picture finally in focus for Angelos?

Orioles Shake-up

June 19, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

The most intriguing aspect of yesterday's Orioles shake-up wasn't the most obvious. Everybody knew Sam Perlozzo was managing on borrowed time. Nobody knew that owner Peter Angelos actually could see the bigger picture.

If it is true that he is hammering out a deal to make former Twins and Cubs executive Andy MacPhail the highest-ranking nonfamily member in the Orioles organization, it might be a sign that he finally has figured out that traditional management principles are traditional for a reason.

Remember, this is the owner who insisted nearly a decade ago that the conventional baseball operations hierarchy was obsolete and created a new paradigm that turned out to be worth less than a pair of dimes. He renamed and redefined the general manager position, then split it into a two-headed hybrid that only magnified the widely held impression that no one in his front office had any real authority.

No disrespect to Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette, who have developed a pretty good working relationship over the past couple of years, but the pursuit of MacPhail might be an indication that Angelos finally recognizes the organizational credibility problem that he created. Even if the current front office is moving the team in the right direction, the fans have become too jaded to stay onboard.

Enter MacPhail, who won two world titles as general manager of the Twins and came within a deflected foul ball of the World Series a few years ago as president of a long-suffering Cubs organization that hasn't been to the Fall Classic since 1945.

He is expected to be named chief operating officer of the franchise, which in itself would be a striking change in organizational hierarchy. The closest thing to a COO previously was the recently departed Joe Foss, but he was largely a business-side guy. MacPhail presumably would oversee the entire front office and have sweeping authority to revitalize the baseball operation.

His record - and a legendary baseball lineage that includes two Hall of Fame executives - says he will do that if Angelos really has had an epiphany and gives MacPhail the autonomy to act dynamically to change the direction of the team.

Of course, Angelos' record would argue against his giving up so much authority, but we can dream. Perhaps it has finally dawned on him that 2 million empty seats a year can't be wrong. That's the difference between the team's record attendance in 1997 (3.7 million) and the 1.7 million or so the Orioles figure to draw this year.

If nothing else, it's probably fair to assume that MacPhail wouldn't take the job without some kind of assurance that he'd be able to run the club without undue interference from above. And it's only logical to conclude that Angelos would not add another big salary to the club's executive payroll if he didn't intend to exploit MacPhail's tremendous experience and expertise.

Sure, it's risky mentioning logic and the Orioles in the same paragraph, but Angelos clearly was impressed with MacPhail when the two worked together on baseball's collective bargaining committee in 2002 and 2006. They developed a friendship and mutual respect that, just maybe, could create the kind of working relationship that allows the Orioles to bloom.

It would be easier to be cynical right now. Everybody knows that Angelos didn't think twice about overruling highly respected GM Pat Gillick after bringing him to Baltimore in 1995. He has always held the reins tightly in this organization, so giving real authority to anyone would be a major departure.

What makes that more plausible now are the circumstances that have conspired to put the team in such a desperate situation. The Orioles are on their way to a 10th straight losing season. The continuing decline in gate receipts and other ballpark revenue is blunting the positive economic impact of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. The fans are becoming increasingly vocal in their discontent.

In short, the team has become a personal embarrassment at just the point when Angelos believed it would be ready to turn a corner.

That's why he approved the firing of Sam Perlozzo, even though it was the baseball equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a broken neck.

To his credit, he also figured out what really needed to be fixed and appears to have found someone to fix it.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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