The Baltimore Orioles today fired General Manager Frank Wren just one season into his three-year contract, continuing a stunning overhaul of the club by majority owner Peter Angelos that also claimed Manager Ray Miller on Wednesday.
In a statement released tonight, Orioles Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Joseph Foss said Wren's firing came as the result of a meeting held Tuesday at Foss's request, in which Wren was confronted with "a season-long series of incidents involving a variety of personnel matters, both with front-office staff and players."
In one incident, described in detail in the release, Wren on Sept. 17 ordered a team plane to take off without superstar third baseman Cal Ripken, even though Ripken phoned ahead to say he was delayed in traffic.
"As a result of failing to resolve these issues, it was determined that Mr. Wren's employment could not longer be continued," Foss is quoted as saying in the release.
Angelos said in the release, "Regrettably, I must concur with the recommendation to terminate Mr. Wren's services and feel that the Orioles were left with no alternative."
Also today, the Orioles officially announced that they would not exercise their option on Miller's contract for next season, as reported today, ending Miller's two-year stint as manager. Calls to Miller's New Athens, Ohio, home today were not returned. Miller will be paid $100,000 by the Orioles by Dec. 1, as directed in his contract.
In a telephone interview tonight, Foss said the organization will determine "over the next several days" how to proceed in hiring a new manager and general manager. "But we have not come to any conclusions in terms of a process or the number of people to be interviewed, nor whom those candidates may be," Foss said.
Wren, who signed a three-year, $1.35 million contract on Oct. 23, 1998, declined to comment on his firing or on the Orioles' statement tonight, other than to say he was "not surprised" by it. Wren and Angelos differed over several issues in their one year together, most notably the status of Miller, whom Wren sought to dismiss one month into the season.
In the incident involving Ripken, the Orioles' chartered jet was waiting to take off for California at 8 a.m. on Sept. 17, when Ripken called saying he was stuck in traffic and would be arriving in the next five to 10 minutes.
"At Wren's order, the plan[e] took off without Cal, who arrived at the gate a few minutes later. Cal was then forced to make his own cross-country travel arrangements," Foss said in the release.
" . . . In the opinion of management, there was no need for such an arbitrary and inflexible decision. In the meeting [on Tuesday], Wren defiantly dismissed our concerns [and] characterized them as 'silly.' . . .
"The Orioles management cannot and will not abide having a general manager operate in such an unreasonable, authoritarian manner and treat anyone in this way, especially someone such as Cal who has done so much for the Orioles and for baseball."
Ripken could not be reached to comment tonight.
Wren's firing comes just one week before he was to preside over the team's organizational meetings in Lakeland, Fla., in which scouts and minor league coaches convene to discuss player personnel and direction.
The Orioles are expected to begin the dual search for a manager and general manager quickly.
Already, Angelos has contacted Jim Leyland, a former manager with Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado, last weekend, sources said, but Leyland already has filed retirement papers with Major League Baseball and has given no indication he would change his mind about retiring.
Angelos also has inquired about the availability of Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa, according to baseball sources, but La Russa has indicated he will sign a two-year extension to stay in St. Louis.
According to team sources, Angelos, who has now gone through four managers in his six year ownership tenure, would like to expand the pool of managerial candidates, which currently includes former Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner, former Rockies manager Don Baylor and former Chicago Cubs manager Jim Riggleman.
However, baseball sources said today that the internal turmoil makes the Orioles manager's job appear far less appealing to sought-after candidates such as Garner and Baylor.
Riggleman, reached at his Florida home today, said he had not been contacted by the Orioles. "I would look forward to hearing from them," Riggleman said, "or anybody else."
Other possibilities include internal candidates--such as Orioles first-base coach Marv Foley or third-base coach Sam Perlozzo--or an unproven "up-and-comer" such as Boston Red Sox bench coach Grady Little.
For the GM job, Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift, who served as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1985 to '88, is a possibility. Orioles director of player development, Tom Trebelhorn, who managed the Brewers from 1986 to '91 and the Cubs in 1994, could be a candidate for either opening.
Wren's uneasy relationship with Angelos went beyond their disagreement about Miller in April.
Angelos had criticized Wren's signing of Orioles closer Mike Timlin to a four-year, $16 million contract, although Wren contended privately that Angelos gave his blessing to the deal. Angelos later told associates that Timlin had a shoulder injury at the time of the signing, something Timlin has denied.
Angelos also was upset about the abortive signing and subsequent $1.75 million settlement the Orioles had to pay to free agent pitcher Xavier Hernandez, who was injured.
But in recent months, Wren's relationship with Angelos had improved. In September, Wren said he and Angelos had been discussing budgets and player personnel for 2000.
At the time, Wren said Angelos was receptive to his ideas for moving the organization away from a top-heavy, veteran-loaded team built through free agency toward a faster, younger team built on its own farm system.
Under Wren's direction this season, the Orioles began accumulating young talent at an unprecedented pace, stocking a depleted farm system that had not produced a home-grown, everyday player for the Orioles since Cal Ripken in 1982.
Wren made pitching his focus, acquiring Jason Johnson from Tampa Bay during spring training and getting four young pitchers in trades for Juan Guzman and Harold Baines in July and August. In the June draft, the Orioles held a record 11 of the first 50 picks, and chose pitchers with the first three. In the following weeks, Wren successfully signed the team's 13 highest draft picks.
Wren's immediate prospects are unknown. However, Marlins General Manager Dave Dombrowski, under whom Wren worked in Florida, said Wren is "very well-respected around baseball," and would not have trouble finding another job.
The only current general manager openings are in Anaheim and Seattle. Bob Watson reportedly is the Angels' top candidate, but has yet to be interviewed.
Pat Gillick, whom Wren replaced with the Orioles, has interviewed for the Mariners' job. The Mariners also have asked the Yankees for permission to talk to their general manager, Brian Cashman, according to baseball sources, but the Yankees have denied permission.
In addition to Gillick, the Mariners also have interviewed Mets assistant GM Omar Minaya, Red Sox assistant GM Mike Port, Watson and White Sox assistant GM Dan Evans, and plan to interview two internal candidates.
Evans was the runner-up for the Orioles last season, when Wren was given the job.
Asked tonight whether Orioles coaches and other front-office personnel could feel secure, Foss said, "We'd like to have the opportunity to talk to the rest of the staff. We have an excellent and outstanding baseball organization and we expect to return for the 2000 season with an outstanding staff, many of which are currently part of our organization."
CAPTION: General Manager Frank Wren, left, and Manager Ray Miller, here on Opening Day at Camden Yards, end their relationship with the Orioles' organization.