O's mismanagement team strikes out on Garner, too


Eureka! The ideal Orioles management team is in place.

Unfortunately, Frank Wren is now assistant general manager of the Atlanta Braves, and Phil Garner is the new manager of the Detroit Tigers.

Wren hiring Garner as the next Orioles' manager -- that was the best possible outcome before owner Peter Angelos pulled his annual October surprise.

Instead, the Orioles figure to be left with a powerless GM -- excuse us, director of baseball operations -- and an inexperienced manager.

If they wanted Garner, they blew their chance in the aftermath of the firings of Wren and manager Ray Miller last week.

While the Tigers aggressively pursued Garner, chief operating officer Joe Foss and executive vice president John Angelos gathered club officials in Lakeland, Fla., to reassure them that their jobs were secure.

"We were so occupied that we didn't get to a list," John Angelos said last night. "My father [Peter] said the first thing we wanted to do is deal with the people we had."

Which left them unable to deal with Garner, who signed a four- year contract yesterday with Detroit, a team moving into a new ballpark, but coming off five straight losing seasons.

"I did have some contact from the Orioles," Garner said. "I think it was around the time they were getting ready to announce something with Ray. It was just to say, 'Would you have interest? We'll be calling.' That was the extent of it."

Who contacted him?

"I'm not at liberty to say," Garner said. "It seems that people don't want to be identified."

Is the official still working for the Orioles?

"As far as I know, yes."

Garner said he told the Orioles official that he had interest in the job. But after meeting with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, team president John McHale Jr. and general manager Randy Smith, he chose Detroit.

"I had done some background research on several possibilities that were out there," Garner said. "I was pleased to see that what I had learned about their organization I felt to be true."

The Orioles should be alarmed that the top managerial candidate wouldn't wait on them for an interview, and that Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa spurned their overtures.

But as usual, they're proceeding at their own pace, playing by their own rules.

John Angelos said club officials plan to meet tomorrow or Monday to determine a list of managerial candidates. He said his preference, however, is to hire a GM first.

"I think that's the way it's going to go," he said. "I'm 80 percent sure."

Putting the GM in place would be a positive step toward establishing a chain of command, but hold your excitement. Peter Angelos is seeking maximum control, and if he has to reinvent the wheel by changing the GM's title, so be it.

Foss said this week that the potential title change "signifies there are other decisions -- generally economic -- that need to be reflected in the overall responsibilities of other people in the company."

That has always been the Orioles' argument -- the GM should not have complete authority over business-related decisions, whether he's trading veterans in July or signing free agents in November.

No one would dispute that ownership needs significant input in such matters. But the change in title would further diminish the lead baseball man's authority, which is exactly what Peter Angelos intends.

Name his manager? The new GM might not even name his secretary. Director of scouting Tony DeMacio, director of player development Tom Trebelhorn and assistant GM Bruce Manno all have been told they will retain their positions.

All appear to be doing fine jobs, but when you hire a GM, you embrace his vision of the organization. At least the Orioles finally are putting it out in the open -- the only vision that matters is Peter Angelos'.

And the new GM could very well be Trebelhorn, Manno or special assistant Syd Thrift, especially if the Orioles plan to make a quick hire, then follow Foss' timetable of naming a manager by Halloween.

It's obvious that a GM hired internally would be little more than a Peter Angelos puppet, and that a manager elevated from Miller's coaching staff would amount to the same.

An outsider such as Red Sox coach Grady Little might be intriguing as manager, because coaches promoted from within -- like Miller -- sometimes find it difficult to adjust their relationships with players.

Little, a minor-league manager for 16 seasons and major-league coach for four, would take the job in a minute, and promptly get swallowed whole.

Wren, of course, wanted to hire an experienced manager, one with enough savvy and self-assurance to navigate the various minefields in the clubhouse and warehouse.

But now Wren is in Atlanta.

His swift hiring by the Braves further suggests that getting fired by Peter Angelos is not a black mark on a baseball man's resume, but a badge of honor.

Evidently, Braves GM John Schuerholz wasn't impressed by the Orioles' news release on Wren, which was as startling as the Starr Report, and nearly as absurd.

Either that, or he wasn't looking for an air-traffic controller.

Wren's departure likely will translate into an anti-Wren strategy, ruling out experienced managers like Don Baylor (Anaheim?) and Wren favorite Jim Riggleman, leaving the Orioles in position to make the same mistake they made in hiring Miller and Phil Regan.

It never ends, and never will as long as Peter Angelos is owner. Reading the quotes from the club's Lakeland Summit you didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"All the key baseball people are here," John Angelos said.


All the key baseball people are gone.

Pub Date: 10/15/99

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