Can Duquette back up the talk with O's?

New top executive brings a track record, for better or worse

November 08, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

So now the Orioles usher in the Dan Duquette Era, which is not to be confused with the Andy MacPhail Era, the Jim Beattie-Mike Flanagan Era, the Syd Thrift Era, the Frank Wren Era and all the other eras we've seen during the tumultuous reign of Peter G. Angelos.

But Duquette said all the right things — except when he referenced Boston instead of Baltimore once — at his introductory news conference Tuesday at The Warehouse.

The new executive vice president of baseball operations talked about his admiration for the Orioles dating back to the mid-1960s, when he'd pretend to be Brooks Robinson in backyard Wiffle-ball games while his brother was Mark Belanger. (Call me a sucker, but I love stories like that.)

He called himself a "builder." He said he hoped to turn the Orioles into a winner with pitching, "aggressive scouting" and "sound player development."

He called manager Buck Showalter "a tried-and-true tactician." And he said the two of them would make "a dynamic team."

Now we'll see if it's just a lot of talk.

Is this a good hire for the Orioles? We need to see what Duquette does over the next year or so before we make that judgment.

He gets the usual honeymoon period before the fans and media start jumping him, of course, because that's how we do things here in Baltimore.

In New York and Boston and Philadelphia, they start ripping you and loosening the lug nuts on your car the first day you show up for work. But we're too polite for that. We give you at least, oh, three months before we start taking you apart on talk shows and making your life miserable.

So — again — it comes down to the usual simple equation for the next Orioles' boss.

If the Orioles turn things around after 14 losing seasons, Duquette will be here for a while. (He's got a three-year contract.) If they don't, he'll be gone. And pretty soon another guy in an expensive suit and nice orange tie will be standing in the harsh glare of TV lights, telling us how thrilled he is to be the new top exec and thanking Mr. Angelos for the wonderful opportunity.

The one thing you can say about the 53-year-old Duquette is that he's exactly the type of front-office exec we expected the Orioles to go after.

This team was never going to hire a young hotshot Theo Epstein-clone. Besides, Duquette was the original young front-office hotshot. Back when he ran the Montreal Expos (1992-93), he was the youngest general manager in baseball.

No, the Orioles wanted a GM with some seasoning, and a track record. And they have that with Duquette.

This is a guy who found a way to win with a small-market team, the Expos, which had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball in the early '90s.

And he was instrumental in turning the big-market Red Sox into a contender in his eight seasons (1994-2001) as GM. Even though he was fired in 2002 when new ownership took over, the players he brought in helped the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years in 2004.

Does Duquette come with some baggage? In Boston, he came to be known by some as a guy who could be abrasive to work with and paranoid with the media.

But Boston's a tough town. Why, if you pitch for the Red Sox, you can't even slam beers and knock back buckets of fried chicken during a game without people jumping all over you. Besides, many who know him say Duquette has mellowed since then.

A lot of Orioles fans wonder if being out of the game since 2002 will hamper Duquette in his new job. But that's a crock. Baseball isn't quantum physics. You surround yourself with good baseball people and find players who can pitch and hit and field. And if you get lucky, you build a winner.

Anyway, Duquette said he needed a break from the game back then. He wanted to stop being on the road 200 times a year. He wanted to coach his kids in youth baseball and Pop Warner football. Good for him.

Plus, it's not like he sat around the house annoying people. He opened a consulting business. He founded a sports academy. He bought a team in a top-flight college baseball league in New England and was a founding member of the Israel Baseball League.

This is a guy who's too smart to stay idle. He graduated from Amherst, after all. (On the other hand, he was an English major. So I take some of that back.)

"My focus is going to be sharper and better from my time away from the game," Duquette said.

Now we'll see how he does. Again, it's another new era for the Orioles. You hope this one finally delivers a winner.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show."

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