Sometime after a brand-new Boston Red Sox ownership group fired general manager Dan Duquette in early 2002, I wrote a national baseball column extolling him for leaving the long-suffering franchise with a promising future.
Two years later, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since Babe Ruth pitched for the team in 1918, making Duquette look pretty good in the rearview mirror.
The new owners wanted some new blood in the front office, but the heart of that team was already pumping when Duquette was summarily dismissed during spring training of ’02. He had drafted, signed or acquired many of the key players that would end the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, including Johnny Damon, Manny Ramírez, Pedro Martínez, Jason Varitek, Curt Schilling, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis.
To be honest, I only remember I wrote that column because Duquette reminded me of it when he was named executive vice president of the Orioles in November 2011. He said it was still posted on the wall of his home office back in Massachusetts.
It only comes to mind now because Duquette brought it up again several weeks ago in a gathering of reporters, and I’m almost ashamed to say, I couldn’t resist a smart-aleck remark.
“Well,” I said, “I guess I’ll have to write another one of those columns soon.”
If that seems in the present context to have been mean-spirited, I can only defend myself by saying it appeared at the time that Duquette was going to survive the inevitable offseason purge that loomed after the worst season in the 65-year history of the Orioles.
There were even national media reports in September, quoting unnamed sources, that the Orioles had decided to jettison manager Buck Showalter and keep Duquette to oversee the rebuilding project that reached full-throttle when he traded most of the club’s veteran stars before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
So, I thought it was safe to make that joke.
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I wish it were safe to write that column, but it is far too soon for that. Duquette’s Baltimore legacy — as it did in Boston — includes three playoff appearances. He, along with Showalter, deserve great credit for overseeing a five-year period during which the Orioles won more regular-season games than any other American League team. He also has to take some responsibility for how completely it all fell apart over the past 13 months.
So, Duquette deserves to be remembered fondly by Orioles fans who remember what it was like the 14 years before he arrived. But the true measure of his time in Baltimore will depend on what happens over the next several years, just as it did for him eight years before he joined the Orioles.
It will depend on how many of the 15 new players he acquired during the midseason trading period turn out to be solid major leaguers. It will depend on how the franchise uses the resources he freed up by dealing away almost all of the Orioles’ expensive stars. It will depend on whether the new baseball operations braintrust sticks with the rebuilding blueprint Duquette put in place or quickly moves to recreate it in its own image.
There isn’t enough evidence yet to predict any of that and there probably won’t be for a while. The Orioles auditioned several of the future pieces Duquette acquired, both at the deadline and earlier, and got mixed results. Veteran infielder Jonathan Villar and 24-year-old third baseman Renato Núñez made good impressions over the final months of the season, but pitching prospects Cody Carroll and Evan Phillips struggled mightily.
There are many more where they came from and also some homegrown prospects who have a chance to pop. If enough of them do over the next couple of years, the Orioles should have some money to spend to be in position to field a contending team in the early 2020s.
And, while the new front-office types are busy patting themselves on the back for the franchise’s renewed success, it will be time for that column giving Duquette the credit he is due.
Hope I’m still around to write it.