Baseball finally got another black general manager yesterday. But it wasn't Frank Robinson.
On the day the Houston Astros promoted Bob Watson to replace Bill Wood, the Orioles' assistant GM sat in his office at the B&O; warehouse, waiting for his fate to be decided by new owner Peter Angelos.
Robinson was baseball's first black manager and appeared the leading candidate to become its next black GM. But suddenly, every club executive faces an uncertain future, Hall of Famers included.
Before Angelos can trade for a 100-RBI man, he must decide who'll do the trading. The Orioles' assistant GMs, Robinson and Doug Melvin, have been on a collision course for 2 1/2 years. They both deserve the job. But the moment one gets it, the other could be gone.
That's one reason Roland Hemond got a contract extension in the middle of a 95-loss season two years ago, but Angelos can't delay the inevitable any longer. It might sound like mission impossible, but somehow, he must find a way to keep both Melvin and Robinson.
Hemond, 63, figures to be retained, but in an advisory role, not as GM. Under most scenarios, Robinson is the odd man out. That wouldn't be good news for the Orioles, or a sport with an abysmal record of minority hiring.
Baseball actually had a black GM before Watson, but only on a technicality. Bill Lucas performed the duties of a GM for the Atlanta Braves in 1976, even though his title was director of player personnel.
Whatever, Angelos can't fire Robinson, an asset in the front office, and a link to the Orioles' storied past. But he'll risk losing him if he thinks he can placate Robinson with a fancy title and figurehead responsibilities.
No one knows what Angelos is thinking, but it's clear he needs a strong baseball man to lead the front office. Bill DeWitt's not going to do it from Cincinnati. And Larry Lucchino's not going to do it if he's under DeWitt.
Angelos could bring in his own man -- two Baltimore natives, Atlanta GM John Schuerholz and Detroit Tigers scouting director Joe Klein, are obvious candidates -- but one way or another, he appears destined to lose Melvin or Robinson.
Melvin is 41.
Robinson is 58.
That might be all you need to know -- but it's not a neat resolution.
For all the criticism directed at the front office in recent years, the problem was mostly owner Eli Jacobs. The four top executives -- Melvin, Robinson, Lucchino and Hemond -- complemented each other.
Lucchino was the prodder, Hemond the conciliator. Robinson had a sharp eye for talent, Melvin a unique depth of knowledge. The four developed a mutual respect. But that doesn't mean Robinson would work for Melvin, or vice versa.
True, Angelos could further delay the decision by keeping Hemond as GM. But even then, Robinson might decide he has no future with the club and pursue a lateral move, or a career outside baseball. The same outcome would result if Melvin -- or an outsider -- became GM.
Robinson, a member of the Hall of Fame, probably could go work for a trading-card company and make a nice living. But he wants to stay with the Orioles, in an expanded role. Unlike Melvin, who oversees the farm system, he doesn't have an area of responsibility.
So, why not make Robinson the GM for three years and satisfy Melvin with a huge raise and the promise that he's next in line? Because it would be almost impossible to justify to Melvin, who has worked eight years in the front office to Robinson's two.
True, Melvin wouldn't leave unless he had another job. He interviewed for the GM's position with Florida two years ago, and also had a feeler from Boston. There might not be a GM opening for him this winter. But he, too, could make a lateral move. He's young enough to start over.
So, what's the answer? It's Melvin's time -- he has been in the game 21 years, first as a minor-league player, then as a scouting director, farm director and assistant GM. But Robinson might be just as capable, and his time is running out.
Angelos can take another course and fire everybody, but that would benefit no one. He needs to understand the right people are in place. He needs to understand the enormity of his decision.
You can't satisfy both Robinson and Melvin, because only one can be the decision-maker, but if Angelos is going to restructure the front office, why not do it so both can have meaningful roles?
Maybe it's mission impossible.
But Angelos better find out.