The way the Orioles operated the last two months of the season, it was as if somebody had slipped into the warehouse overnight and cut all the phone lines. There was little in the way of communication among executives.
"Everybody holds organizational meetings this time of year," a club staff member said on the last day of the regular season. "Right now, I have no idea if we're going to do that. Nobody's said anything to me. Nobody seems to be saying anything to anybody."
That is changing under new general manager Pat Gillick. Immediately. He held his first organizational meeting even before he was introduced as the new GM, and he'll hold another today -- via teleconference -- in between meetings with others, like assistant general manager Frank Robinson.
"His idea is to get input," said Orioles farm director Syd Thrift. "He'll ask everybody to say what they think the needs are, what they think the priorities should be. He gets a consensus, and then he decides."
Gillick, the former GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, is considering a multitude of free-agent possibilities. At his farewell news conference in Toronto yesterday, he mentioned that he is interested in pursuing Blue Jays left-hander Al Leiter. He also has indicated he will talk to free-agent second baseman Craig Biggio, who is being courted heavily by other teams.
Gillick's ability to communicate, and command and wield authority is something that many in the organization say will benefit the club tremendously. Said one, "Believe me, it will be a welcome change."
It would be wrong, some club sources say, to simply blame the lack of communication on former general manager Roland Hemond. Said one, "Roland had some faults, but the system was flawed, in the way it developed. Nobody knew who to answer to anymore."
Hemond had, quite apparently, lost the confidence of owner Peter Angelos. As Hemond's influence diminished, the three branches of the baseball operations often ran as separate entities. In theory, Hemond ran the organization, yet the authority on financial decisions, in effect, belonged to others. The power vacuum was referred to by some as The Fog.
"It was just confusing," said one staff member. "What will be great with Pat is that everybody will know who to deal with. Everybody will deal with Pat, and Pat can deal with Peter, and you have a chain of command in which everyone's role is defined. The department heads [Thrift and scouting director Gary Nickels] will be given much more defined parameters."
Many expressed delight in Gillick's deep background in player development and scouting, which Thrift called "a complete understanding."
As Thrift explained it, using a hypothetical, he could ask Gillick about sending minor-league hitting instructor Mike Easler to the Dominican Republic to work with some Orioles playing winter ball. Thrift wouldn't have to explain the potential value of this to Gillick; Gillick would know immediately. "And you would just move forward from there," Thrift said. "He understands.
"He works well with people. The main thing is, everybody feels involved. Everybody feels important."
The hiring of Gillick likely will mean many tangible changes in the Orioles' farm system, as well. Other AL executives say Gillick will hire Epy Guerrero, regarded as one of the top Latin American scouts in baseball. Gillick is expected to improve the club's scouting abroad, as well.
Nickels said Monday, "You're talking about an executive with an exceptional track record."
Gillick referred to his successful Blue Jays tenure several times in his Toronto news conference yesterday, and spoke with deep emotion. One time, he broke down and had to step away from the microphone.
But Gillick told reporters in Toronto he is excited about the Orioles' chances, at one time comparing the team to the 1990 Blue Jays -- a team two years away from winning back-to-back titles.
"There are some similarities," Gillick said. "Maybe they're not there, yet. But I see the Orioles as a team in a position to win, and I want to win again.
"Who knows where they'll be in two or three years? This team has a chance, and the chance is now."
Gillick acknowledged an interest in designated hitter Paul Molitor and second baseman Roberto Alomar, and said he will pursue Leiter, who had a better 1995 season than his statistics indicate (11-11, 3.64 ERA). Leiter also is being courted by the Florida Marlins, among others.
Even before Gillick was hired, the agent for Biggio said yesterday, he had heard the Orioles had interest in his client. Then Gillick said Monday that he had interest in Biggio.
Barry Axelrod, Biggio's representative, had dinner with his client Monday night after the hiring of Gillick and talked about the possibility of playing in Baltimore, and how fun it would be to play alongside Cal Ripken.
Axelrod said yesterday, "How could Baltimore not be intriguing to him, for that fact alone?"
The Orioles would face stiff competition for Biggio, who already has turned down a four-year, $20 million offer from the Houston Astros. The Colorado Rockies want him badly, as do the San Diego Padres, who are trying to use Biggio's former teammates, Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley, as lures to get the second baseman. Both New York teams also are in the running.
Gillick acquired free-agent pitcher David Cone twice in trades, and Yankees general manager Bob Watson indicated yesterday that he expects the Orioles to compete against New York for Cone.
"Of course I want him for my club, but I definitely don't want him to go to Baltimore either," Watson told the New York Daily News. "But in my mind that's not going to drive up the price."
The Yankees are prepared to give Cone a multi-year deal worth about $6 million per season, the News reported.