In some corners, the perception of Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos holds that he already has uttered, "Ready, aim," and is prepared to holler "fire" so loudly the walls of the B&O; warehouse will come tumbling down.
Angelos, the thinking goes, will sweep everyone out of the front office if the Orioles don't make the playoffs this season and will steal Baltimore native John Schuerholz from the Atlanta Braves and make him the general manager.
Angelos likes the fact Schuerholz grew up in Baltimore and admires the work he has done with the Braves. Who wouldn't? Schuerholz has spent owner Ted Turner's money wisely, acquiring free agents Terry Pendleton and Greg Maddux and trading for Fred McGriff.
Never mind that current Braves manager and former GM Bobby Cox and scouting director Paul Snyder were the true architects of the Braves. Cox stubbornly refused to trade young pitchers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery, turning down attractive offer after attractive offer.
Never mind that Schuerholz, during one eight-month stretch of his GM reign with the Kansas City Royals, traded David Cone and Danny Jackson and got in return Ed Hearn and Kurt Stillwell. Cone and Jackson went on to combine for a 43-11 record in 1988, finishing second and third to O(times 59)rel Hershiser in the Cy Young Award voting.
These realities notwithstanding, Schuerholz deserves most of the praise he gets.
But as the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The Orioles ain't broke.
Through the combined efforts of scouting director Gary Nickels and his staff, and assistant general manager Doug Melvin, the once-laughable farm system steadily has gained momentum.
In order of their trade value, pitching prospects Jimmy Haynes, Armando Benitez, Brian Sackinsky, Scott Klingenbeck and Rick Krivda have drawn the attention of other organizations.
Swift Curtis Goodwin and strong-armed Alex Ochoa give the Orioles a pair of players most scouts believe will be everyday outfielders in the major leagues by 1996, perhaps even impact players.
The Orioles could have traded one of these top prospects in a panicky attempt to bolster their starting rotation. Wisely, they have held onto them.
"It's exciting now to be able to rattle those names off," assistant general manager Frank Robinson said. "That all goes back to the scouting philosophy of going out and scouting aggressively. Not only scouting these guys, but also signing them."
Starting with 1988, the year Cone and Jackson won the silver and bronze medals in the Cy Young race, every Orioles first-round draft choice has made it to the majors leagues with the exception of 1993 pick Jay Powell.
The Orioles did just as well this past off-season on the free-agent market as they have in the amateur free-agent draft.
With Angelos, general manager Roland Hemond, Robinson and Melvin pooling input, the Orioles signed five free agents. Three -- (Rafael Palmeiro, Lee Smith and Mark Eichhorn) have been huge successes, one (Chris Sabo) a solid acquisition, one (Sid Fernandez) a mild disappointment thus far.
Sure, the Glenn Davis trade (Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, Steve Finley) was nothing short of atrocious, but other than that, can you name a young talent the Orioles gave up who has come back to haunt them?
The Brady Anderson and Chris Hoiles deals more than make up for the Davis blunder. Hemond acquired Anderson and Schilling for Mike Boddicker and got Hoiles for Fred Lynn.
Subtract Schilling from the equation because he was acquired and dealt. What remains is a ledger in which the Orioles subtracted Harnisch, Finley, Boddicker and Lynn and added Anderson and Hoiles.
Boddicker and Lynn have retired. Would you trade Anderson and Hoiles for Finley and Harnisch? If you would, I'll trade you my eight-track player for your compact disc player.
By recognizing they were more than one player away in 1992 and 1993, the Orioles held onto the likes of Jeffrey Hammonds, instead of panicking him away in a trade.
It has become fashionable to talk about Orioles front-office gridlock these days, but the truth is the impending strike and divisional realignment are responsible for trade inactivity.
"There are no egos up here," Robinson said. "If you asked Roland if he has an ego he would ask you if you have a dictionary so that he could look the word up. Doug wants to be a GM and there's nothing wrong with that. I want to be a GM and there's nothing wrong with that. Roland wants to continue to be a GM and there's nothing wrong with that. No one's trying to push anyone out of the way or step on anyone. There is no gridlock. It works."
Said Melvin: "We all have specific roles. I make sure I've got a feel for our players and prospects. We all have our different areas we are responsible for. It works OK."
Angelos, not as ignorant on baseball matters as some think, is smart enough to realize that the best means of maintaining the organization's momentum is to stay within.
Hemond's contract runs through next season. Robinson, known throughout the game as a keen judge of talent, is his logical successor. Melvin is Robinson's logical successor. The only problem with that scenario is the Orioles would be running the risk of losing the ambitious Melvin to another organization.
By going outside the organization to succeed Hemond, the Orioles would lose both Robinson and Melvin. And live to regret it.
Talent in the organization is on the upswing, and with Angelos tightening and expanding revenues on the business front, more money than was available under previous ownership is being earmarked for scouting and development.
At this point, stepping out of the organization would be stepping back, regardless of whether the Orioles are the odd club out in what is shaping up as a four-team race (New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox) for three remaining playoff spots, joining the winner of the American League Jest.
Dear Owners: Open the books
Angelos has been an advocate of full disclosure of financial records by owners, a move that would knock a huge hole in Donald Fehr's soap box.
That strategy appears to be gaining some momentum, which could bring the two sides in labor negotiations at least onto the same planet.
As it stands, why should the players just take the owners' word that they are in serious financial straits and in need of a major overhaul of the economic system?
Professional athletes are an extremely competitive lot and to expect them to allow themselves to be easily manipulated is naive.
Oates a media darling?
Veteran baseball writer Leonard Koppett wrote a book entitled, "The Man in the Dugout; baseball's top managers and ** how they got that way."
Koppett's checklist of managerial duties:
1. Run the game.
2. Handle the pitching staff.
3. Make out lineups and choose personnel.
4. Evaluate abilities; your own players and opposition's players.
5. Motivate and discipline players.
6. Deal with the rest of the organization.
7. Deal with the media and the public.
9. Delegate authority to coaches.
10. Integrate the demands of the job with your personal life.
Orioles manager Johnny Oates had been handling duty No. 7 poorly, until recently.
Where once a fidgety Oates read negativity into nearly every question from reporters, he now appears much more relaxed during his encounters with the media and has been putting a positive spin on both interpreting questions and answering them.
The manager has been coached, and by all appearances he is very coachable.
Andrea Kirby of New York-based Sports Media Group met with Oates during the Orioles' recent trip to Cleveland and spoke with him by phone once since then.
Kirby, who coached Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly in 1991, worked for WJZ-TV in Baltimore from 1974 to 1977 before landing a network job with ABC.
"The biggest thing in the world is for him to understand your intent and your intent is to give the fans what they need, to tell a story, and he's the one who's got it," Kirby said. "If a guy is focused on baseball, he is not automatically going to understand what your intent is. If they misunderstand what your intent is they will hold themselves in check until they lose it."
Kirby also is ESPN's announcer coach and deserves some of the credit for helping to transform Peter Gammons from a Richard Nixon into a Jack Kennedy.
Zane trade rumor
Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden flew to Pittsburgh last week to scout Pirates left-hander Zane Smith, who is 5-1 with a 2.38 earned run average in his past seven starts, finally bouncing back from shoulder surgery he underwent in November 1992, when he had a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff muscles repaired.
Smith, 33, is eligible for free agency after this season. He was dealt from Atlanta to Montreal in July 1989 and traded from Montreal to Pittsburgh in August 1990.
"People have been watching me ever since I was with Atlanta," Smith said. "It seems my name has always been Mr. Trade Rumor."
The Orioles also have talked with the Pirates about obtaining Smith. Depending on labor negotiations, talks are expected to ,, intensify after the All-Star break.
No club will want to part with a top prospect or two in return for a pitcher who might start two games for them, then go on strike.
America pulls for Griffey
Ken Griffey is being treated like a hometown player in every ballpark in the American League.
I= That never was more evident than Thursday night at Fenway
Park, where Griffey homered to break up Aaron Sele's shutout and received a standing ovation.
The smile, the swing, the talent and the pursuit of the record have turned him into public non-enemy No. 1 in baseball.
Paying the price
Toronto Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick repeatedly has been praised for making deals that helped his team win pennants.
But those deals didn't come without price tags attached.
Steve Karsay (Rickey Henderson), Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten (Tom Candiotti), Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson (Cone), and Pedro Munoz (John Candelaria) were dealt during pennant races. In return the Blue Jays received players they did not re-sign.
Of course, winning two World Series titles in a row makes it a little easier to stomach the losses.
It's not as if Gillick dealt Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, the way former Boston GM Lou Gorman did in 1990.
The Pirates are 7-2 against the Atlanta Braves and have held the Braves to 19 runs in nine gamers.... Montreal Expos coach Tim Johnson is the most likely candidate to replace Boston Red Sox manager Butch Hobson who has little chanceof surviving the ALL-STAR break Like the two major-League managers in Texas, Kevin Kennedy of the Rangers and Terry Collins of the Houston Astros, Johnson began his managerial career in the Dodgers' farm system .... Is it time for veteran right-hander Rick Sutcliffe of the St. Louis Cardinals to retire? Seattle Mariners beat writer Larry Larue of the Tacoma News-Tribune thinks it is. " A Cy Young Award hangs in this man's trophy case,right next to his pride," wrote Larue who made Sutcliffe a member of his annuall anti-ALL-Star team
Bonuses earned for being elected or selected for Tuesday's All-Star Game:
* $100,000: Kirby Puckett, Minnesota.
* $50,000: Roberto Alomar, Toronto; Wade Boggs, New York Yankees; Joe Carter, Toronto; Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle; Pat Hentgen, Toronto; Randy Johnson, Seattle; Jimmy Key, New York Yankees; Chuck Knoblauch, Minnesota; Cal Ripken, Orioles.
* $25,000: Albert Belle, Cleveland; Ricky Bones, Milwaukee; Scott Cooper, Boston; Travis Fryman, Detroit; Kenny Lofton, Cleveland; Paul Molitor, Toronto; Mike Mussina, Orioles; Paul O'Neill, New York Yankees; Lee Smith, Orioles; Mickey Tettleton, RTC Detroit; Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox.
* $15,000: Wilson Alvarez, Chicago White Sox.
* $10,000: Ivan Rodriguez, Texas.
* $50,000: Craig Biggio, Houston; Ken Caminiti, Houston; Mariano Duncan, Philadelphia; Lenny Dykstra, Philadelphia; Danny Jackson, Philadelphia; Doug Jones, Philadelphia; David Justice, Atlanta; Barry Larkin, Cincinnati; Greg Maddux, Atlanta; Randy Myers, Chicago Cubs; Matt Williams, San Francisco.
* $25,000: Jeff Bagwell, Houston; Dante Bichette, Colorado; Doug Drabek, Houston; Tony Gwynn, San Diego; Ken Hill, Montreal; Fred McGriff, Atlanta; Jose Rijo, Cincinnati.
* $15,000: Moises Alou, Montreal; Darrin Fletcher, Montreal; Marquis Grissom, Montreal.