GMs ON DECK Melvin, Robinson await turn at front-office plate, but for now they're a team


SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles are an organization very much in transition, and that is not limited to the team on the field.

The front office is evolving, too -- perhaps more subtly, but in a way that could have just as much impact on the team's long-term prospects for success.

Assistant general manager Frank Robinson, 56, has taken on an increasing role in the operation of the club, as evidenced by the part he played in the Craig Worthington trade last week. Doug Melvin, 39, remains one of baseball's most-promising young executives, and has a firm handle on all aspects of the front-office operation.

If this should be unsettling to general manager Roland Hemond, 62, he is not letting on. In fact, it is Hemond who has delegated some of his authority to each of them.

"I love it when there are a lot of people who are candidates to replace you or go on to bigger things," Hemond said. "I'm proud of their growth and that of the other people I've been associated with."

It is no secret that Melvin and Robinson see themselves moving up in the baseball hierarchy. Hemond sees them moving up, too, but he is in the first year of a two-year contract extension that makes it unlikely either will replace him soon.

Having the two of them on relatively equal footing in the organization actually might enhance Hemond's job security, because no one relishes the prospect of choosing between them. If one eventually is named Orioles general manager, the other almost certainly would leave.

Melvin is the nuts-and-bolts man who has spent several years in an apprenticeship under Hemond. Robinson has undergone an intensive front-office orientation since he accepted his new position in June, but his value to the club transcends his growing knowledge of baseball's administrative side. He is one of baseball's highest-ranking black executives at a time when the sport is trying to improve on a poor record of minority hiring at the front-office level.

"I can't speak for Doug, but I didn't take the job with the idea that I was going to be the GM in the next couple of years," Robinson said. "I look at it the same way I look at the team on the field. You can't have too many good people working together."

Both had reservations about being co-assistant GMs, but the system has caused no visible friction. Melvin continues to

oversee the minor-league operation. Robinson has been negotiating trades with National League clubs.

"I was apprehensive at first," Melvin said, "because there are a lot of duties that you perform, and you wonder if they are going to be taken away from you. But Roland has made it work. He's always communicating with us. He gets you involved more than other GMs.

"I don't know if this has ever been done before, having two assistant GMs, but it's not like there hasn't been enough work to keep us busy."

Still, the obvious question remains unanswered. Which will be the next Orioles general manager? No one in the organization is going to touch that one.

"This is not the time to talk about succession," club president Larry Lucchino said. "This is the time to talk about production. There are duties to be shared, and there are full plates for everyone.

"I think it has gone well. I think you can determine that by observing how well they work and the degree of job satisfaction and harmony."

For the moment, the Orioles have the best of all worlds, but no one expects either assistant GM to be content in that role forever. Perhaps no one should have expected them to be content at all, but they appear to be comfortable.

"We both want to work here, and we both probably want to be GM," Melvin said. "Frank has been here a lot of years, and I've put in a lot of years. This is my 20th year in baseball. But it [the new front-office alignment] works now, and the people who are here are making it work. It's not a problem."

In all likelihood, the choice won't have to be made. Melvin's name has come up when other clubs have interviewed for GMs. Robinson also could be an attractive candidate, especially for a club that is ready to make a strong statement about minority hiring. He said he doesn't want to be considered on that basis, but he knows as well as anyone that someone has to hold the door open for other minority candidates. He already has done that as a manager.

There is also the possibility of Robinson's accepting another managerial job, something he no longer considers out of the question. He said yesterday that -- under the right conditions -- he might return to the dugout.

"Would I take a managerial job?" he said. "I would consider it, but not any job. My thinking is that my managing days are over, but I've learned never to close the doors to anything."

The Orioles have made it clear they will not stand in the way if either Melvin or Robinson has the opportunity to better himself, but, in the interim, the club seems to be getting the most out of both.

Robinson asked for a specific area of responsibility, and Hemond gave him the National League, but Robinson has sat in on trade talks, contract negotiations and arbitration hearings to acclimate himself to the entire baseball operation.

"What I wanted when I took the job was an outline," Robinson said. "Doug's job already was pretty well-defined. I wanted my job spelled out. I didn't want to be sitting around waiting for someone to find me something to do.

"Roland used to do everything himself. He has turned some things over to Doug, and he has shared some things with me. I don't know if anybody else except Roland would be able to do that. . . . And I appreciate it."

Hemond remains as energetic as ever. He doesn't see himself retiring soon, but he does see the need to have qualified people ready.

"Sometimes, you foresee in your future a time to depart and a time when the pace is not so hectic," he said. "I feel great, but you recognize that age does catch up with you.

"But I still haven't lost that feeling of excitement. The first day of workouts, I woke up at 4 a.m., and I couldn't get back to sleep. I couldn't wait to get out here. When it stops being fun, then you know it's time, but that time hasn't come yet."

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