Baltimore lands a new GM

November 8, 2011

Roughly once every 18 months or so, the Baltimore Orioles summon the media to the B&O Warehouse adjacent to Camden Yards to introduce their latest management hire — generally alternating between a new field manager and a new general manager — who, without fail, gushes about what a great opportunity it is to run the Orioles, and vows to build a perennial contender in Baltimore.

That was more or less the message delivered by Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ newly hired GM, on Tuesday morning at his introductory news conference. It was just as it had been for Buck Showalter when he was introduced as manager some 15 months ago — as well as for the four previous GMs and five previous managers hired by the Orioles since the turn of the century.

“This challenge is the kind of challenge that I look for,” said Duquette, the former GM of the Montreal Expos (1991-94) and Boston Red Sox (1994-2002). “I wouldn’t be here standing in front of you today if I didn’t believe I could have an impact and turn this franchise around — to get it to be competitive and then to get it to a championship level.”

But if the Duquette introduction, at a basic level, felt the same as all the many others — the extreme management turnover that’s become a part of life for a franchise that has suffered through 14 straight losing seasons — it was also different on several other levels.

For one thing, Duquette made one cringeworthy detour off-script, some nine minutes into his opening remarks — after first attempting to highlight his ties to the Orioles by name-dropping the likes of Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Pat Dobson, Boog Powell and 1960s-era executive Harry Dalton — when he went to thank some family members and associates in attendance.

“I’m glad they’re here today,” Duquette said, sporting an Oriole-orange tie, “to share this new opportunity to build a perennial contending club here in Boston.”

Yikes.

Duquette, 53, hasn’t held a major league position since being fired by the Red Sox in 2002, despite having let it be known, at least in recent years, that his services were available. He acknowledged it was he, and not the Orioles, who initiated the contact between the sides once the job came open.

As for the Orioles, who have been searching for Andy MacPhail’s successor for more than a month, they were flat-out turned down by one prospective hire (Toronto Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava) and were reportedly rebuffed by at least five other candidates (Andrew Friedman, DeJon Watson, Jerry Dipoto, Allard Baird and Rick Hahn) who either withdrew from consideration or declined to be interviewed.

Unfortunately, there was no one from the Orioles to speak to the veracity of that perception, because no representatives of upper management or ownership were made available to discuss the hire.

Thus, it was left to Showalter — who, despite being in a position (manager) that typically reports to the GM, was part of the search committee that, in effect, hired his own boss — to shed light upon the hiring. Showalter’s strong influence in player-personnel matters is viewed industry-wide as one reason the Orioles’ GM job was so undesirable.

“It was very obvious when he came in [to interview] that he was very up to speed on the Orioles,” Showalter said. “It was real impressive. I think anybody who doesn’t think he’s up to speed on the industry is sadly mistaken.”

It is unfortunate that Duquette’s hiring must be viewed through the prism of the Orioles’ dysfunction and desperation, because he actually has a strong big-league resume, albeit one that stops in 2002. His 1994 Expos team was widely seen as the best in baseball, but fell victim to the players’ strike that wiped out the postseason. Meantime, in Boston, his Red Sox teams made the playoffs in three of his eight seasons, and he amassed many of the parts of the 2004 team that went on to win the World Series.

Duquette cast his hiatus from the big league game as a personal choice — he opened a youth sports academy, coached his sons’ Little League teams and helped launch a baseball league in Israel — and said his “focus is going to be sharper . . . from being away from the game.”

He said all the right things: That the Orioles need to “upgrade our pitching depth.” That he welcomed Showalter’s involvement in the decision-making process (“There’s plenty of work for two guys here”). That he has softened the abrasiveness that led to clashes with the media in Boston (“I’m going to be kinder and friendlier”). That the Earl Weaver treatise, “Weaver on Strategy,” would be required reading throughout the player development staff.

But above all, he sounded genuinely enthused and optimistic about a gig that plenty of others have viewed as a dead end.

“This is right up my alley: turning around a ballclub and building a farm and scouting system,” Duquette said. “This is what I love to do. This is a great opportunity. I’m thankful for it, and I’m ready to go to work.”

Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999.
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