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‘It’s pretty awkward’: How Orioles’ Mike Elias, Brandon Hyde handled hiring headache at first winter meetings

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde and general manager Mike Elias watch players during spring training in Sarasota, Florida.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde and general manager Mike Elias watch players during spring training in Sarasota, Florida.

Ever fly to Las Vegas on a Tuesday morning to be told that your fifth swing at a big league managerial job of the offseason was about to connect, only for news reports to prematurely declare you the Baltimore Orioles manager and create a situation so awkward for you and your future employer that you have to get out of town that night?

Brandon Hyde did.

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A year ago at baseball’s winter meetings, Hyde’s reported selection as executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ managerial choice was displayed on MLB Network in Elias’ hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay Casino while he was briefing the media, prompting a laugh and denials before the session wrapped.

What preceded it was a day that all parties can laugh about now: the Orioles got their manager, the winter meetings hot stove got its fuel and everyone in that suite that night got a story to tell. In the moment, it was an inauspicious start to what had been touted a new and transparent era of Orioles baseball.

“It’s just weird seeing your name blasted everywhere and you’re like, ‘That’s not true,’ ” Hyde said.

Having served as the bench coach for then-Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and being a part of their World Series-winning rebuilding project, Hyde had become a hot name on the managerial search wires last offseason. By the time the Orioles were finally ready to make their hire, the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds had all decided to go another direction.

When Hyde met with Elias and assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal, they connected over the shared experiences of building champions the way they did with the Cubs and Houston Astros, respectively, and Hyde’s day-long interview in Baltimore left an impression.

So, last Dec. 10, Elias called Hyde from Las Vegas and asked if he could fly out the following morning to talk further. Hyde flew in from his Chicago-area home on Dec. 11 and met with Elias in Hyde’s hotel room at the Mandalay Bay.

Elias’ recollection of that conversation is clear. He said: “Look, you are my first choice for this. I don’t have a specific offer here for you, but you probably have a sense of what first-year managers make these days. It’ll be in line with that. I just want to let you know that because this is going to go really fast for you, you’re going to have a big decision to make — I’m here. We’re both here, your agent is here, and I’m available for any questions that you might have. But I want to make this work.”

Hyde didn’t hear any ambiguity in those comments, but knew that it meant his meeting with Elias was going to be the beginning of an eventful day. The particular brand of eventful was less foreseeable.

“He talked about how I’m the leading candidate for the job, and there were some things obviously that I have to think over,” Hyde said. “I had to talk to the Cubs, I had to talk to my agent, I had to talk to my family about what we’re going to do.

“Two hours later, I’m sitting at a restaurant in Vegas and I see that I’m hired by the Baltimore Orioles. We had not gotten to that point. We had just talked about being the leading candidate. I had some things to talk over since I was presently employed with the Cubs as Joe’s bench coach. I wanted to talk to Joe, I wanted to talk to the Cubs, I wanted to talk to my wife, I wanted to talk to my agent. There were a lot of things to discuss. That was it.”

The initial reports emerged just before 5 p.m. on the West Coast, as Elias was set to meet with the media for his daily session. The New York Post reported that the Orioles were “closing in on hiring” Hyde. The Athletic reported that he would be the Orioles’ next manager. Both proved true, even if there was no agreement. Semantics to some, but hard to ignore in a setting like the winter meetings.

Said Elias: “I felt that that reporting was a good bit advanced, and I think, my suspicion, is out of courtesy to the Chicago Cubs, he probably gave them a very strong indication that he wouldn’t be coming back next year and they would need to find a new bench coach, being as late as it was in the calendar. I assume that they summarily and probably, in an exaggerated fashion, leaked that information out somehow. But that was the cause for the disrupted timeline of that.”

Mejdal, who was in the room and witnessed the uncomfortable exchanges, said, “Brandon was our No. 1 choice, but big deal."

“There still was a lot that had to be done, and a lot that had to line up for it to work,” Mejdal said. “When I saw it on the TV, I was like, ‘Well, somebody got a little ambitious.’ … It turned out to be true, but at that time, it wasn’t as they reported.”

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Once the media left, Elias explained as much to the team’s public relations staff who were in the room. He talked to Hyde, who told him he didn’t know why it was being reported. And as all this was happening, Hyde and a friend were at the lobby restaurant of the hotel watching it all unfold over a late lunch.

The winter meetings being what they are, Hyde couldn’t really escape it. The restaurant was relatively empty, he said, but those there were offering their congratulations — to say nothing of his phone screen lighting up. One of the in-person well-wishers was John Schuerholz, the Baltimore native and Hall of Fame Atlanta Braves executive.

“There’s a TV right where we’re sitting, and somebody announced that I’m the manager of the Orioles,” Hyde said. “John Schuerholz looks at me and says, ‘Oh hey, congratulations.’ I said, ‘I appreciate it, but I haven’t been hired.’ A Hall of Fame GM understood what was going on.”

Elias said he was concerned that the story being reported was taking away the chance to talk to the other candidates, who he noted he didn’t want to eliminate from consideration in case Hyde’s hiring didn’t materialize.

Hyde said he wasn’t necessarily concerned that the story coming out would impact his prospects in being the next Orioles manager, though he did feel for Elias having to deal with all this at his first winter meetings in the big job. There was no escaping it, and the timing of the leak during a media session didn’t help.

But lest Hyde decide to spend the rest of his time in Las Vegas in his room to avoid the media or unable to take two steps through the hotel without having to explain that he hadn’t actually accepted the Orioles’ job yet, there was no purpose for him to stay in town.

“We all kind of thought for the better that I should probably leave town, and I flew out that night,” Hyde said. “I just didn’t want to be around. I was getting texts congratulating me, and everyone’s coming up congratulating you.”

Hyde and Elias continued hammering out a contract as the week continued, and once the meetings broke and the Orioles front office returned home, the team announced Hyde was the new manager that Friday.

It put to bed a bit of business born from the way news sweeps over the winter meetings each December, and put the figureheads of the Orioles’ rebuilding efforts in a unique spot. There’s always news at the meetings. This time, it was about them.

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“It’s pretty awkward,” Hyde said.

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