Orioles bench coach Eddie Murray yesterday became the ninth known candidate to interview for the club's managerial vacancy as majority owner Peter Angelos and his advisory committee press to conclude the process by this weekend, according to club and industry sources.
Murray's long-anticipated interview coincided with the Seattle Mariners' industry-shaking hire of former Orioles general manager Pat Gillick as executive vice president/director of baseball operations. Gillick resigned his post with the Orioles last October at least in part because of philosophical differences with Angelos.
Calling his new job "a plum situation," Gillick received a three-year contract believed to be worth more than $800,000 a season.
Gillick's successor, Frank Wren, was hired as Atlanta Braves assistant GM one week after his Oct. 6 firing. Gillick becomes the fourth former Orioles executive to resurface as general manager, joining a club whose membership includes the Los Angeles Dodgers' Kevin Malone, Cleveland Indians' John Hart and Texas Rangers' Doug Melvin.
"I think there are some really attractive situations in baseball. I won't say there are a lot of attractive situations," said Gillick, without directly referring to his former employer. "I think this is a very attractive situation. That's what attracted me. Other situations in baseball are not as attractive."
For now, the Orioles' situation remains in flux as the search continues for a manager and a director of baseball operations. After arriving in New York on Saturday, Murray concluded his three-day leave of absence from the Arizona Fall League's Scottsdale Scorpions with a warehouse meeting before the Angelos advisory committee. The second-year coach and one of the most productive switch-hitters in the game's history became the third member of Ray Miller's holdover staff to interview, joining third base coach Sam Perlozzo and first base coach Marv Foley.
The Orioles are soon expected to begin contacting finalists for follow-up interviews with Angelos. Former Indians manager Mike Hargrove, Boston Red Sox bench coach Grady Little and Perlozzo are the projected front-runners, according to industry sources.
Orioles officials could not be reached last night.
Although the Orioles have mentioned a desire to maintain continuity despite Wren's firing -- department heads and assistant GM Bruce Manno have been assured their positions are safe -- Gillick's return to a major-league front office may prove a lure. Because he left after his three-year contract with the Orioles expired, Gillick faces no constraints in hiring from his previous club.
Gillick's priority now lies with signing All-Star center fielder Ken Griffey and shortstop Alex Rodriguez to contract extensions. Both are eligible for free agency after next season and could command combined annual salaries of $35 million or more. The Mariners have committed to bumping their $60 million payroll by as much as 30 percent; however, Gillick acknowledged that the club would have to be "creative" to retain its signature players.
Yesterday's announcement completed a "gut-wrenching" odyssey for Gillick. As recently as last week he had eliminated himself from consideration because of the amount of time he and his wife, Doris, would spend apart. However, after Doris Gillick worked out an arrangement with her Toronto art gallery allowing her to spend three of every four weeks in Seattle, Gillick reconsidered.
"I'm really happy to be here and that they had patience with me," he said.
The Mariners interviewed at least nine candidates, including former New York Yankees general manager Bob Watson and Chicago White Sox assistant GM Dan Evans, last October's runner-up to Wren.
Gillick referred to his 12-month absence from the major leagues as "a sabbatical" during which he supervised construction of the U.S. Pan American baseball team and uncovered fresh enthusiasm for the job. Sounding rejuvenated, Gillick said, "I felt I had a love and a passion for the game. I probably wouldn't have come back if I didn't think things were pretty much in line. That's what we found in Seattle."
This is the second time Gillick has returned from retirement. In November 1995, then-Orioles manager Davey Johnson coaxed Gillick to Baltimore.