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O's changes must start with new GM

Here's how a major-league team works:

The owner hires the general manager, then entrusts him with the entire baseball operation. That's right, the whole shebang.

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The GM isn't part of a four-man search committee to hire the manager -- he hires the manager.

The GM doesn't get blindsided when the vice chairman of business and finance hires the farm director -- he hires the farm director.

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The GM oversees the farm system and scouting department. The GM puts together the major-league roster. The GM makes the trades.

The Orioles need a GM.

Not one in name, one in actuality. One who owner Peter Angelos hires and respects. One who conceives of a plan for the Orioles, then executes it ably.

Not Roland Hemond.

Someone younger.

Someone stronger.

Someone Angelos won't stampede.

Of course, the man who should be GM is in Texas, the man who should be manager is in Cincinnati and the Orioles are in utter shambles.

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Orioles Magic? That's a phrase from a bygone era. The Oriole Way? That's a concept lost on the mercenaries who play for this team.

The team is in chaos, the front office is in chaos, the season is in chaos. In short, it's just what you'd expect from an outfit with no chain of command.

Hemond, 65, is at the end of his contract. The next GM could be Cleveland farm director Dan O'Dowd, or San Diego GM Randy Smith or even Florida assistant GM Frank Wren.

It really doesn't matter, as long as Angelos gets out of the way. By now, he should have learned his lesson, don't you think?

The owner's role is to write the checks and sign off on major decisions. He should defer on baseball matters.

Joe Foss, the former banker who masterminded the hiring of farm director Syd Thrift and helped hire manager Phil Regan, has had enough fun.

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A strong GM, and none of this happens. A strong GM, and maybe a team with a $42 million payroll is competitive. A strong GM, and maybe the payroll isn't even $42 million.

Does Angelos want a strong GM?

That, obviously, is the question.

A strong GM almost certainly would fire Regan and bring in his own manager -- if not this winter, then early next season.

Doug Melvin did it in Texas, and Dan Duquette did it in Boston, Walt Jocketty did it in St. Louis and Ed Lynch did it with the Chicago Cubs.

At this point, Angelos probably wouldn't mind changing managers. The sooner the better, embarrassing as it might be.

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After Sept. 6, when Cal Ripken is scheduled to break Lou Gehrig's record, what reason will there be to come see this team?

Then again, what happens if you bring in an interim manager, and the Orioles rally to claim the wild-card spot, and then you hire a GM?

The next manager would be the Orioles' third since Angelos took control of the club in October 1993, and seventh in 12 years.

It would be nice if he lasts longer than the O. J. Simpson trial.

No, you don't fire Regan now -- you hire the GM first. You hire the GM, give him full autonomy and tear up the organization again.

Regan? Gone.

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Thrift? Gone.

Assistant GM Frank Robinson? Gone.

Scouting director Gary Nickels, signed through 1997, probably would be the only executive left.

Upheaval, and more upheaval.

Of course, it's insane.

But it's Angelos' only choice.

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Regan never had a chance -- he'd be remembered as another Angelos pawn, a man who deserved to get neither hired nor fired.

Thrift would be another transitional figure. No young, dynamic GM would want a 66-year-old farm director with his own ambitions.

Robinson, with any luck, would wind up in San Diego -- if former Orioles president Larry Lucchino doesn't bolt the Padres first.

The assistant GM is supposed to be the eyes and ears for the GM, pitching ideas, monitoring players, helping run the farm system.

Melvin, 43, was ideal. Robinson, 59, couldn't bring the same energy to the job, but who would know? He barely got the chance.

Know what Robinson is doing these days? Putting on a uniform before games to help Chris Hoiles with his hitting.

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Don't the Orioles have a hitting coach? Yes.

Shouldn't a Hall of Famer be above such humiliation when he's supposed to be making personnel decisions?

Absolutely.

A strong GM hires a strong assistant. A strong GM persuades the owner to rededicate to the farm system. A strong GM hires a manager capable of molding a cohesive unit out of the players on his roster.

That's how a major-league team works.

! But not this one.



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