Two days after the Orioles had played out their second straight losing season, six months of organizational rancor and intrigue reached a climax among first-year general manager Frank Wren, chief operating officer Joe Foss and Orioles general counsel Russell Smouse. A meeting Tuesday in a B&O; warehouse third-floor conference room aired issues involving the team's revered third baseman, organizational control, Wren's leadership and his ability to deal with majority owner Peter Angelos.
Finally, Wren left Camden Yards that afternoon knowing that he would soon be the Orioles' former general manager.
The aftermath has demoralized the team's front office and reinforced an industry-wide perception of Angelos' overbearing presence within his team's baseball operations while also raising questions over the role of third baseman Cal Ripken in Wren's ouster.
Conversely, club sources give an account of Wren as a headstrong executive who disrespected subordinates, acted arbitrarily and never fulfilled his pledge to work hand-in-glove with Angelos. The accounts in this article are based on interviews throughout the season with organization and industry sources.
And for a third consecutive year, the Orioles begin the off-season with a search for either a general manager or a manager. With Wednesday's more anticipated firing of manager Ray Miller, this time they will go about both.
The Orioles announced Wren's firing Thursday night with an unusually detailed nine-paragraph document that devoted half its text to his decision to leave for a West Coast trip without Ripken on board.
It also criticized Wren for a "season-long series of incidents involving a variety of personnel matters, both with front-office staff and players."
A day before the Orioles were to begin their three-city, 11-game road trip, sudden crosswinds forced the charter to abort takeoff, sending it into a sliding fishtail that stopped only yards from the end of the runway.
The team was sent home and told to return the next morning for an 8 a.m. flight. The next day, Hurricane Floyd turned Ripken's normal 30-minute trek from his home in Reisterstown to Baltimore-Washington International Airport into a maze of detours.
Unsure of his location, Ripken reached Wren on his cell phone to tell him he was five to 10 minutes from the terminal. Noting that everyone else was on time, Wren turned to Miller and traveling secretary Phil Itzoe and asked his manager, "What do you think we should do?"
Miller replied, "Let's go."
Ripken improvised by securing a seat on a charter bound for Las Vegas out of Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. He arrived in Anaheim four hours after his teammates and made little secret of his displeasure.
One clubhouse source said Ripken "frosted" Wren for the rest of the season.
While some teammates were initially unaware that Ripken had been left behind, others were outraged.
"When things like that happen, usually the coaching staff and general manager go out of their way to help the team and the player. It was extremely unusual and uncalled for," said outfielder Brady Anderson, Ripken's closest friend on the team and the longest-tenured Oriole behind Ripken.
Ripken could not be reached for comment this past week, but several teammates confirmed that after backup catcher Lenny Webster failed to make a team charter in Atlanta, Miller convened a meeting in which he urged players to call if they knew they were going to be tardy.
That he had called, combined with the unusual weather, intensified Ripken's irritation.
"The bigger deal is the thought process. We have a game today on the West Coast. If it had been the starting pitcher, would he have left him behind? That's not very rational," Anderson said.
The club's prominent mention of Ripken in Thursday's news release further sensationalized what was already a hot issue in the industry.
A number of general managers endorsed Wren's decision, but club officials subtly acknowledged the third baseman's circumstances in the release, saying in part that "Orioles management cannot and will not abide having a general manager operate in such an unreasonable, authoritarian manner and treat anyone in this way, especially someone such as Cal who has done so much for the Orioles and for baseball."
Wren's confident, even cocky manner made a quick impression on many in the organization. A clubhouse faction referred to him as Frank Sinatra because of his substitution of "My Way" for the long-ago discarded "Oriole Way."
Wren saw himself as implementing methods that proved successful during his tenure with the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos. Frustrated over Miller's failure to enforce dress codes, a ban on facial hair and punctuality, Wren hoped to send a message with the Ripken incident.
Long before the "recent episode of considerable concern," -- Foss' term for leaving Ripken behind -- Wren and ownership had clashed over Miller's status, the role of director of player personnel Syd Thrift and numerous other matters.
Few, however, realized that Wren's relationship with ownership had grown so shaky that the incident Sept. 17 could lead to last week's ouster. However, club sources say that the Tuesday meeting would have occurred regardless of the Ripken flight incident.
Wren inherited virtually an entire front office from former general manager Pat Gillick's regime and quickly became impatient with what he perceived as warehouse "plants." He expressed his concern to several high-ranking officials, including Angelos, but soon found himself back on the carpet to explain his position.
According to front-office insiders, Wren had described Orioles director of player personnel and Angelos confidant Thrift as a malignancy and expressed suspicion over the role played by team doctors.
Angelos ordered Wren to apologize to four employees, including Thrift and team physicians Dr. Michael Jacobs and Dr. William Goldiner. Wren approached three employees but never offered an apology to Thrift, now considered his possible successor.
Bound by a clause in his settlement prohibiting criticism of the organization, Wren did not comment for this article.
Others described Wren's frustration as a product of broken promises and misleading platitudes offered before his hiring on Oct. 23, 1998. Wren is the third general manager to resign or be fired by Angelos during his six-year stewardship of the franchise, intensifying a wave of criticism directed at the majority owner.
"Who do they want there, Howdy Doody?" asked one rival general manager.
Wren's initial performance was considered uneven by Angelos and other high-ranking club officials. Angelos was less than impressed by the four-year, $16 million contract given closer Mike Timlin and the three-year package given second baseman Delino DeShields, though Angelos initially endorsed both.
The impression grew after Timlin's early-season performance lagged and DeShields was hounded by injury. Meanwhile, rookie second baseman Jerry Hairston served as the franchise's breakthrough position player.
But Wren also breathed life into the minor-league system by capitalizing on the club's record four first-round picks in baseball's annual amateur draft. The Orioles also had 11 of the draft's 50 overall picks and immediately energized their long-suffering player development department.
Trades for young pitchers such as B. J. Ryan and Jason Johnson offered immediate dividends, and the acquisition of other pitchers for pending free agents Harold Baines and Juan Guzman added depth where there has traditionally been none.
The abortive signing of free-agent reliever Xavier Hernandez last December also hurt Wren. The Orioles eventually agreed to pay Hernandez $1.75 million over three seasons because it announced his signing and added him to its 40-man roster before discovering during a subsequent physical that he suffered from a partially torn right rotator cuff.
If Angelos was put off by Wren's swagger, then the general manager was equally peeved by the shifting conditions of his employment.
Wren had secured a pledge from Angelos during his second interview that as general manager he could exercise his prerogative regarding Miller.
Aware of the industry-wide skepticism over Miller's capability to run a game and govern a headstrong and factionalized clubhouse, Wren anticipated making a change if the season began poorly.
"That won't be a problem," he assured an associate before his hiring.
When the Orioles' record tumbled to 3-9 on April 18 following three losses in Toronto, Wren said, "I've always felt the first couple weeks is when you start to get a sense. So I'm starting to draw some conclusions of my own, but until we go a little further I'm not going to react to them."
Five days later, Wren recommended Miller's firing for the first time. On April 25, Miller blistered his club following a 11-10 home loss to the Oakland Athletics, questioning their "courage" and professionalism.
From there, the relationship between owner and general manager crumbled. Miller's weekly conversations with Angelos convinced the owner that he was shackled with an aged, unworkable bullpen. Wren conversely kept count of Miller's late-inning blunders that he felt cost the team games.
Wren never confirmed or denied to Miller that he sought his ouster, and the two spoke daily throughout the season.
Both also spoke regularly with Angelos, but rarely at the same time.
On May 18, a day after Angelos reportedly agreed to fire Miller, only to reconsider after an extended meeting with the manager, Miller described his dealings with Wren as "the best relationship with any general manager I've had in baseball."
Wren's dealings with Angelos so degenerated that he discussed with his wife, Terri, the possibility of resigning.
The couple had purchased a $515,000 home in Severna Park and enrolled their twin sons in an Annapolis private school, but the wear of an uneven, sometimes profane relationship with Angelos had sapped much of Wren's initial enthusiasm.
Wren's predecessor, Gillick, and his staff watched home games from Angelos' fourth-floor luxury suite, but Wren and his staff sat in a second-floor radio booth. Thrift, however, kept his seat alongside the owner.
Friction between Wren and Angelos became worse during an exchange at Angelos' law office in late April. A religious man, Wren strove to never use profanity. But on this afternoon, Wren made an exception after receiving a reprimand from Angelos, himself no stranger to strong language.
The general manager gestured and reportedly cursed the owner as an "idiot," then stormed from the office to Camden Yards.
That night, Angelos' two sons, Lou and executive vice president John, approached Wren in his box.
An "intense" exchange occurred in which Lou Angelos ripped the general manager for showing such disrespect to his father. Industry sources say Wren was threatened, something both sons deny.
Tuesday's meeting offered closure to every charge and countercharge.
When Wren balked at agreeing to terms offered by Smouse and Foss, arrangements were made to discuss a settlement on Wednesday. An 11-month association frequently pocked by backbiting, distrust and a frustrating season ended with Wren's agreeing to Thursday's release in return for a settlement promising not to talk about it for one year.