The Orioles completed their worst stretch in franchise history with a 6-1 loss to the New York Yankees, giving them 32 defeats in their final 36 games and setting the stage for what could be a tumultuous offseason.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has said manager Mike Hargrove and the coaching staff will be invited back for next season, but the owner has not addressed Thrift's status. Thrift, 73, said he has his own decision to make.
"I like baseball," he said, "and as long as I'm involved with baseball people and baseball players - the total environment - I'm very, very happy.
"The only thing I do regret is I have gotten my priorities out of order at times, and I have spent way too much time involved in this job and jobs like this, and I've really neglected my family. I feel bad about that."
Asked if this means he is considering a reduced role, Thrift said, "You're talking about a job, I'm talking about life."
Thrift said he has already made his decision, but he declined to specify what it is.
"I don't know if it'll ever become public," he said. "It may not become public. I'm not trying to duck your question; I don't know. It's not anything dramatic or exciting - kind of dull really."
Will it mean a change in title? "Titles, I really have no opinion," he said.
Does he hope to stay in baseball operations? "You know," he said, "I really would hope so."
Angelos was not at yesterday's game and was unavailable for comment. Club spokesman Bill Stetka said, "Nothing has changed. Syd is vice president of baseball operations."
But speculation intensified that Thrift's status could change soon. If that happens, Major League Baseball would likely require the team to conduct a national search for his replacement, though several people in the organization are quietly promoting Orioles broadcaster and former pitcher Mike Flanagan.
Thrift said the recent scrutiny about his job status has come as a surprise.
"I'm having a hard time trying to understand why," he said. "This is a team effort. As I said before, on Aug. 23, we were 63-63, and since that time we won four ballgames. So does that mean that I'm responsible for that, all by myself? Is that a reasonable question to ask?"
The Orioles finished the season with a 12-game losing streak, the third-longest skid in franchise history. Their former ace, Mike Mussina (18-10) pitched five innings yesterday, and Jason Giambi hit his 41st home run as the Yankees wrapped up home-field advantage through the American League playoffs.
At 67-95, the Orioles finished fourth in the American League East for the fifth consecutive year, this time 36 1/2 games behind the Yankees. The Orioles lost 24 times in September, more than any other month in franchise history since they lost 25 in August 1954.
"I don't think it's a sense of relief at all," Hargrove said, after the season finally ended. "I think it's a sense of frustration because the last month of the season was so difficult for all of us.
"We really accomplished a lot of good things this year, and I'm not trying to put a spin on a bad situation. Eighty percent of the season was very good for us, and I refuse to allow the last month to take the luster off of that."
Thrift took over his current job in December 1999, and Angelos handed him the duty of helping trim payroll from about $80 million to about $41 million this year, for players who started the season on the 25-man roster.
The Yankees, for comparison, had a $122 million payroll this season, and the second-place Boston Red Sox were also over $100 million.
"That's not an excuse," Thrift told WBAL Radio's Steve Stewart yesterday. "That's a reason."
The Orioles finished with the AL's worst team batting average at .246, and during their horrific 36-game slide they averaged just 2.86 runs.
Thrift pointed to the Toronto Blue Jays, who gained 21 games on the Orioles over the season's final five weeks to finish in third place in the AL East. The everyday lineup Toronto used during that span - Vernon Wells, Carlos Delgado, Josh Phelps, etc. - included seven players drafted and developed through the Blue Jays' system.
"It's a tribute to their scouting and player development," Thrift said. "People misunderstand what I say, but we did not produce the players in 1994 to 1997, and they'd be here hitting 25, 30 home runs."
Thrift served as the Orioles' director of player development from 1995 to 1998, running the farm system before moving into a reduced rule under former general manager Frank Wren in 1999. When Thrift took over for Wren, the Orioles made Don Buford their farm director, and now changes will likely be coming in that department, too.
This season, the Orioles' top three minor-league affiliates finished a combined 109 games under .500, and Triple-A Rochester severed its ties with the club after 42 years.
Between these minor-league developments, the Orioles' late-season collapse, and Angelos' decision to wait to address his status until the offseason, Thrift has come under siege.
"That may be more important to the media than it is to me," Thrift told WBAL Radio. "I'm the only one who can control my life. Whatever Mr. Angelos decides to do, I'm 100 percent in support of it. I'm sure what I'm going to do, I'm absolutely sure what I'm going to do, but that's my business."