Angelos finds good match with MacPhail

The Baltimore Sun

CHICAGO -- Andy MacPhail is a good man and a solid baseball executive, even if you wouldn't know it by looking at his 11-year run with the Chicago Cubs, which produced one 90-win season.

He's a good fit for the ownership-challenged Orioles, who reportedly are hiring him to be chief operating officer at the same time they are beginning a managerial search and, no doubt, yet another top-to-bottom review of the organization.

The problem, clearly, is at the top.

Peter Angelos, a brilliant tort lawyer and thorn in the side to industry, can't get out of his own way. He cannot delegate, constantly usurping authority or simply second-guessing.

That's why Pat Gillick walked away after only three seasons. It's why rival executives hate dealing with Mike Flanagan, Jim Duquette or anyone else running the Orioles. They know they can't get a straight answer, at least not without Angelos wanting to sit on it overnight or through the weekend, and that's how deals don't get done.

Before hiring MacPhail, Angelos never had a strong club president who could tell him to back off and let his baseball men handle the baseball decisions. MacPhail prevailed in exactly that capacity with the Tribune Co., keeping powerful men like John Madigan and Dennis FitzSimons in their proper roles, where the Tribune Tower's influence seldom went beyond setting the budget.

You can argue that MacPhail - or MacFail, in the vernacular of Murphy's Bleachers - didn't fight hard enough for his budget, believing you can win without squeezing the profit margin. His resignation last September led to general manager Jim Hendry having access to new depths of the company vault.

But MacPhail kept both his bosses and his front-office staff happy, which is never easy. If Mark Prior and Kerry Wood had been healthy, he could have stuck around Wrigley Field forever - or at least until he succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner.

While Selig raised a stir last week by mentioning George W. Bush as a possible replacement, it is MacPhail who looks like a bird in hand because of his relationship with owners, his integrity and the respect he is afforded throughout baseball. You know he's going to be on the short list for 2009, or whenever Selig actually does walk away, and more than likely he'll be at the top of it.

MacPhail's challenge after leaving the Cubs was what to do until that time. He said he was open to jobs outside of baseball, as well as within, but his pedigree and hands-on experience would have been wasted in investment banking or with a Forbes 500 firm.

MacPhail is a baseball man. He grew up around ballparks and league offices, following his father and grandfather around - both Lee and Larry are in the Hall of Fame as executives - but didn't seek a career as a functionary. Instead he learned the business from the ground up, starting his career as a scout and becoming an assistant GM with the Houston Astros when he was 28.

MacPhail was really the Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman of his generation. He blazed a trail for Epstein, Cashman and the current wave of Generation X GMs, taking over the Minnesota Twins in 1985 when he was only 32.

It's no surprise that MacPhail apparently landed in Baltimore. He and Angelos worked well together when Selig appointed them to Major League Baseball's bargaining committee for the historic labor talks in 2002 and 2006.

MacPhail's role was as good cop to Angelos' bad cop, but he had his own explosions dealing with Gene Orza and Donald Fehr. He didn't really want the job, in part because he had enough headaches dealing with city leaders and roof-toppers in making some overdue changes at Wrigley Field. His bosses at Tribune Co. wanted him involved in negotiations, so he dutifully commuted between Chicago and New York in the contract years.

MacPhail played a big role in helping Selig and his lead negotiator, Rob Manfred, produce work-stoppage-free labor deals, as well as major concessions in testing for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.

His potential new job is helping the Orioles restore their proud heritage, which has steadily slipped away since Angelos bought the team from Edward Bennett Williams' estate. Don't be surprised if he is luckier in Baltimore than he was in Chicago.

Anyone who can find a post-Cubs gig usually does all right.

Phil Rogers writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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