Orioles Roots Planted Long Ago for MacPhail
Thursday, June 21, 2007
BALTIMORE, June 20 -- A couple of years ago, Andy MacPhail sat at a circular table filled by men like himself -- baseball men -- and they played a game. Each had to tell the others the one thing he wanted to do before his career ended.
MacPhail, a third-generation executive, spent eight years in Baltimore while his father, Lee, ran the Orioles. He refused to attend kindergarten unless his mother allowed him to wear his Orioles pajamas. He ran around his house with a two-toned bat signed by Jackie Brandt. His childhood shaped his choice at the table: He wanted to run the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles officially made MacPhail's fantasy a reality Wednesday, when team General Counsel Russell Smouse introduced him as president of baseball operations. The move significantly shifts the Orioles' front office power structure.
MacPhail has "full and ultimate responsibility for player personnel and baseball decisions," Smouse said, which signals a major change. Owner Peter Angelos has always had the final say in baseball decisions. But Angelos has promised MacPhail, 54, complete control over baseball operations. "If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't be here," MacPhail said. "It's just that simple."
"The fans have been sending a strong message that they want change," Smouse said. "The Orioles have heard that message and are responding."
The response was to hand over their team to an executive with one of the finest résumés and richest pedigrees in the sport. Lee MacPhail was a baseball man for 45 years, and from 1958 to 1965 served as the Orioles' general manager. He was the president of the American League for 10 years and in 1998 was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Larry MacPhail, Andy's grandfather, pushed for night games in 1935 as the owner of the Cincinnati Reds, and he later bought the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the New York Yankees. Larry became a Hall of Famer in 1978.
But family connections weren't always a help to MacPhail. He lost his first job in baseball before he worked a single day at it because of his connection to his father. During his final year at Dickinson College in 1976, he sent his résumé to all 24 teams.
"I probably got eight polite 'no's," MacPhail said. "And I'm still waiting to hear back from about 14 of them."
But he also received two offers, a summer job from the Cubs and a permanent one from the Montreal Expos. He turned down Chicago and decided to work for the Expos. But his father, then the AL president, awarded expansion teams to Toronto and Seattle. The decision enraged Expos owner Charles Bronfman, who hoped the struggling San Francisco Giants of the National League would move to Toronto and create a natural regional rivalry. Suddenly, MacPhail's first job disappeared.
"I learned then nepotism will only take you so far," he said.
But MacPhail inherited his family's baseball mind. In 1985, at age 32, the Minnesota Twins made him youngest general manager in the sport. He won two World Series with the Twins, then moved on to the Cubs in 1994, where he spent 12 seasons before exiting after last season.
This summer was going to be MacPhail's first off in 30 years, and he planned on making up for lost time with his wife. They traveled to Del Mar Beach, Fla., once a month to see his father. They went to Napa Valley, Calif.; Palm Springs, Calif.; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C. MacPhail read eight books, alternating between non-fiction and fiction, ranging from Michael Crichton's latest to a Civil War tome.
During his months away from baseball, MacPhail was surprised by how rarely he was bored. But the game still beckoned, and it offered both a dream and a challenge. The Orioles are on track for their 10th straight losing season, and now MacPhail is singularly charged with changing the franchise.
"That's what I have to do to get up to speed," he said. "And hopefully we'll get to the point where we can have the kind of season that this franchise and these fans deserve."
Orioles Note: MacPhail denied reports that the Orioles had offered former Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi their open manager's position, but talks between the team and Girardi are ongoing. Girardi met with team officials in Chicago on Tuesday.
"There have been productive discussions," said Steve Mandel, Girardi's agent. "Joe's just kind of analyzing the situation for his family and letting the process unfold.
"They do want to have a manager in place fairly soon. I don't think we're looking at a month."
MacPhail is close to Girardi, who played for the Cubs while MacPhail served as general manager. "I'm fairly impressed with Joe," he said.