O's 21st century reality gives MacPhail rude introduction

June 23, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

The honeymoon ended so fast that new Orioles president Andy MacPhail might want to consider an annulment.

During the first 24 hours after he was introduced as the club's new savior, top managerial candidate Joe Girardi decided the "timing" wasn't right for him to return to the dugout and star shortstop Miguel Tejada's wrist was broken by an errant pitch. Two days into the MacPhail era, No. 1 starter Erik Bedard was out with a hamstring injury and the club was under fire for giving Tejada a token appearance in Thursday's game in San Diego to extend his consecutive games streak.

MacPhail doesn't move into his Camden Yards office until Tuesday, the day the New York Yankees and their fans take over Oriole Park for a three-game series. He'll still be unpacking boxes when the first-place Los Angeles Angels show up next weekend. We can only hope that he hasn't run screaming into the night by the end of his first homestand.

If rebuilding the Orioles looked like the ultimate front-office challenge when MacPhail decided to accept the job less than a week ago, what does it look like now? It apparently didn't look too good to Girardi, who reportedly was offered more than $1 million per year to interrupt his broadcasting career. MacPhail's self-described "pre-emptive strike" to bring in a hot new manager turned instead into his first taste of what it's like to run Team Kryptonite.

The franchise has been in such disarray for such a long time that it's difficult to persuade quality people to put their reputations on the line to help fix it. The arrival of MacPhail, who has more credibility than anyone who has worked in the Orioles' front office since Pat Gillick, is supposed to change that, though it's fair to wonder if he really knows what he has gotten himself into.

The late Syd Thrift got blown off by so many free agents he used to joke that he felt like he was trying to spend Confederate money. Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette tried to overcome that problem this past winter by overpaying for several relief pitchers, only to watch the bullpen collapse and convince owner Peter Angelos of the need for new leadership at the field and front-office levels.

MacPhail's first attempt to effect dynamic change in the organization ended with an unattached young manager-in-waiting turning down a rare in-season opening, which was viewed around the major leagues as just another sign of the humbling decline and fall of the once-proud Orioles franchise.

The situation was a little more complicated than that, of course. Girardi is considered a possible heir to Joe Torre in New York, so he had to weigh whether a multi-year commitment to the Orioles would cost him that opportunity, but the questionable prospects for success in Baltimore almost certainly played a role in his decision.

Still, Girardi's rebuff might be no more than a minor setback under other circumstances. He won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 2006 after leading the low-payroll Florida Marlins to a respectable 78-84 record, but that team is winning at about the same rate this season under first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez. The rejection was more problematic in this case because it has forced the Orioles into a more protracted managerial search at a time when MacPhail's early weeks could be better spent evaluating the roster and talking to other teams in advance of the July 31 trade deadline.

Though it's too early to tell whether Tejada's injury will further handicap MacPhail in his attempt to turn the Orioles in a new direction, it certainly doesn't help. Tejada's trade value already figured to be lower than last year because of the pronounced decline in his power numbers. Now, with his physical condition in question, it will be even harder to persuade a contending team to give up solid players in return and assume the remaining $30 million on his contract.

No one has confirmed that the Orioles intend to shop Tejada, but MacPhail was brought in with an apparent ownership mandate to change the image and outlook of the organization. That's going to be difficult to do in the short term because there aren't that many players on the roster who are marketable as midseason upgrades for potential playoff teams.

MacPhail probably would tell you that he isn't about the quick fix, anyway. He's known as a deliberate guy who prefers to make well-considered moves that will put his team in position to be successful year after year. That's fine, but his surprising entrance coupled with the immediate hiring of Girardi would have provided a big emotional boost to the legions of disaffected Orioles fans.

Instead, he got to feel their pain.

Hopefully, the wedded bliss will come later.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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