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Owning little say, Gillick speaks volumes with silence Respected GM finds O's role obscured as Angelos calls all shots

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick shuttled between owner Peter Angelos and manager Davey Johnson last week, trying to broker an uneasy peace that would keep the organization moving in the direction that led to the American League Championship Series each of the past two seasons. He did not succeed.

Now, Gillick must hire a new manager, piece together a new coaching staff and re-create a sense of organizational stability in the wake of Johnson's resignation on Wednesday.

Whether he succeeds this time depends on how much authority he retains within the Orioles' hierarchy, and that is something that only Angelos can address.

Gillick has declined to comment on anything relating to Johnson's resignation or the search for a new manager, referring all questions to Angelos. That is either an indication that he has become gun-shy around the volatile owner, or has simply decided to keep the lowest possible profile to allow the organization to return to a state of normalcy.

His silence, however, speaks loudly about the state of the Orioles' organization at another critical point in franchise history. The next manager probably will be named in a matter of days, and it appears that Angelos will be making the selection.

Angelos owns the club and -- by all accounts -- has the right to make important policy decisions, but in most major-league organizations, the choice of a new manager is made by the baseball operations staff. The owner is consulted, of course, but usually does not take an active role in compiling the list of candidates.

"I can't analyze [the Orioles]," said Los Angeles Dodgers executive vice president and general manager Fred Claire, "but I am a huge believer in granting and accepting responsibility. When Peter [Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley] asked me to take this position 11 years ago, I said I would but I wanted to be assured that I would have full authority to make those decisions within our budget restraints.

"If a GM is going to get run out of town for bad trades and bad signings, I think he would like to feel that those were his decisions."

Angelos intervention

Angelos, of course, has intervened on a number of occasions. He vetoed potential midseason deals involving veterans David Wells and Bobby Bonilla in 1996, and insisted last winter that the club fire pitching coach Pat Dobson and replace him with Ray Miller. Those decisions clearly bolstered Angelos' confidence in his own baseball acumen and -- apparently -- further disjointed the front office chain of command.

It is the kind of management style that made New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner the toast of the Big Apple in the late 1970s, when the Yankees won two world titles, and also made him the subject of intense criticism when a series of much-publicized front office blunders contributed to a 13-year span between playoff appearances from 1981 to 1995.

Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott also gained a reputation for short-circuiting the chain of command when she was more actively involved in the operation of that club, but general manager Jim Bowden adapted to the situation and finished first in the National League Central -- with Davey Johnson as manager -- in 1994 and 1995. Johnson, under circumstances similar to what transpired in Baltimore, left after the 1995 season to manage the Orioles.

"First of all, the owner of the franchise has a right to run the franchise any way they see fit," Bowden said. "A lot of times, the GM is going to agree, but in the end the owner has the right to make decisions in the best interest of the club."

'You have to carry it out'

That doesn't mean the GM has to like it, but Gillick has not complained. He had wide-ranging authority during his long tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays and is considered one of the most brilliant front office executives in professional sports, but it has become clear that Angelos defers to no one when it comes to the management of one of his enterprises.

"I think that the professional that [Gillick] is, and the organizational person that he is, you always want to do what's right for the organization," Bowden said. "The decision may not be your decision, but if the organization makes a decision, you have to carry it out and then support it. If you lose someone, whether it be a manager or a player, your job is to go out and try to find someone better. You have to turn it into a positive."

Most teams employ a far more traditional management style, including the one that Gillick left in Toronto. Now he must deal with the appearance that virtually any decision is subject to ownership review.

It may not be just an appearance. Angelos is a micromanager who became outraged at Johnson after the manager directed second baseman Roberto Alomar to pay a $10,500 fine to a charity that employed Johnson's wife as a paid fund-raiser. The owner also was known to be upset with Gillick for failing to publicly condemn Johnson for the improper diversion of club funds, and -- if he's in one of his you're-either-for-me-or-against-me moods -- may even consider Gillick's attempts to smooth over the dispute a sign of disloyalty.

If so, the next year could be a very uncomfortable one for Gillick, assistant general manager Kevin Malone and the rest of the baseball operations staff.

No one is going to tell Angelos how to run his franchise, but other successful teams have found that adhering to the traditional organizational hierarchy pays off in the long run.

"To the degree that ownership is going to describe and set guidelines for budgets and for a number of other aspects of management, that's who the GM reports to," Claire said. "But the GM is on the firing line. In most cases, he's going to have the responsibility for hiring the manager and the coaching staff as well as the roster of players."

Braves' boss backs off

Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten agrees. The general manager generally consults the owner or club president on personnel matters, but the manager typically is chosen by the GM.

"I don't think for that kind of decision I would supplant the general manager unless it was an economic decision," Kasten said. "I think you'd have to talk to [former Blue Jays president] Paul Beeston, but I think that's the exact situation that existed in Toronto.

"In the case of the Braves, I wouldn't hesitate to make my opinion known, but I'm going to want a baseball decision to be made by the general manager. If that isn't the case, I should get a new general manager."

That could be next year's controversy or next month's. Gillick is entering the final year of a three-year contract. He said recently that he definitely will remain for the 1998 season, but that was before his effort to hold the club's on-field management team together failed this week.

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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