Peters' influence provides playoffs hint of Oriole Way

The Baltimore Sun

If you've been paying attention for the past 10 years or so, you've probably noticed that Baltimore is no longer the center of the baseball universe.

Maybe it never was, but there was a time when the Orioles were one of the sport's cornerstone franchises, and during a big chunk of that heady period the general manager of the team was a nice man named Hank Peters.

Peters, in fact, was the GM for the final 10 of the Orioles' amazing string of 18 straight winning seasons (1968-1985), somehow keeping the player development component of Oriole Way alive nearly a decade into the free-agent era.

This little testimonial is not intended to strike some contrast between the good old days and the frustrating new ones, but to serve as pretext to an uplifting little story about the way a good organizational philosophy is handed down from generation to generation, though not necessarily in the same organization.

When the Cleveland Indians defeated the New York Yankees to take their place in this year's American League Championship Series, general manager Mark Shapiro quickly placed a call to the baseball executive who helped him get his start in the Indians' front office and impressed upon him the critical importance of the long-term player development strategy that has put the team one step away from the World Series.

When the Colorado Rockies staged a dramatic late-season run to capture the National League wild-card berth and then sweep the Philadelphia Phillies in last week's Division Series, GM Dan O'Dowd made a similar call. Both can trace the roots of their success to the same baseball father figure.

Peters ponders the possibility of the two facing each other in the Fall Classic with great pride and playfully rebuffs the obvious hypothetical question about his loyalties if such a scenario were to occur.

"I wouldn't want to choose," he said by telephone yesterday from his home in Timonium. "They both are great young men. I'd be pulling for both of them and happy for either."

If you want to take the concept a step further, you could also throw in Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes as a second-generation disciple, because he spent time in the Cleveland front office under former GM John Hart, who went to the Indians from Baltimore with Peters in 1989.

No doubt, you can connect the dots like that with a lot of long-time executives, but as the two league championship series get under way - the NLCS starts tonight in Arizona, the ALCS begins tomorrow night in Boston - there are a lot of people involved in both who have Hank to thank.

For O'Dowd, the debt to Peters goes way beyond the useful set of management principles he inherited during his time in the Orioles and Indians organizations.

"I owe my whole career to Hank," O'Dowd said yesterday. "I wouldn't be in the game of baseball today if it wasn't for Hank Peters. He was my mentor. He gave me my start. He has taught me a lot of things."

Peters remembers a young Orioles employee who wasn't satisfied with a job in sales and promotions.

"He always had a strong desire to get into the baseball end," Peters said. "After hounding us for a couple of years, we finally put him into our minor league department. He had a fertile mind. He was always making trades in his mind. Some good. Some not so good. He was a quick learner."

Shapiro grew up in a baseball family, albeit on the other side of the rather large philosophical divide between baseball management and the business of his father, Ron, the prominent Baltimore attorney and agent who has represented Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and a lot of other high-profile players.

It wasn't necessarily a natural fit, but Ron's emphasis on building good relationships with negotiating adversaries allowed Mark to spend a lot of time around the Orioles and build some relationships of his own.

"It was a sensitive situation," Peters said. "He was an agent's son, so you could say there might be a conflict. Whose side are you on? But Mark and Dan had known each other, and that was at a time when we were getting up to speed putting all our scouting information on computers. Mark was pretty computer literate, and one thing led to another. You could say Mark was my last hire in Cleveland."

In some respects, Shapiro is viewed more as Hart's protege, because he worked under Hart throughout the 1990s and replaced O'Dowd as the Indians' assistant GM when O'Dowd got the job in Colorado. Shapiro acknowledges his debt to both, but his affection for Peters goes back much further.

"He was the only role model I had for a baseball executive growing up," Shapiro said yesterday. "What stood out about him was his professionalism. It was clear he was an extremely honest, high-character guy who was a stickler for straightforward communication. That sounds like a little thing, but it's not, and it's not all that common."

O'Dowd and Shapiro are quick to give Peters much of the credit for their success, but he is not as quick to accept it.

"People can open the door for you," Peters said, "but it's up to them to walk through that door."

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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