Some days, the nachos are enough all by themselves. Other days, you crave a burrito. But, every once in a while, you've just got to have 'em both. It's a two-for-one kind of a day. See how easy it is to understand Peter Angelos. Some days he just has to fire the manager and the general manager.
Unless you are Angelos himself, you may be chuckling as you read this. Over the past six seasons, the Orioles' boss has become one of the most dependable stock characters in American sports. He is the owner who not only drives off every manager and general manager from Camden Yards, he even got rid of beloved announcer Jon Miller, as well as a number of star players.
Angelos has perfected the Reverse Midas Touch. Whatever King Midas touched with his finger turned to gold. It's Angelos's foot that does the trick. Whoever Angelos kicks out the door suddenly turns to gold.
Who thought that Rafael Palmeiro or Robby Alomar could get better? Or that Armando Benitez would become an unhittable closer -- in New York? Freshly fired Ray Miller claims he's now retired. No, Ray, don't do it. Come back. Who knows what good fortune awaits?
The double firing of Ray Miller and Frank Wren this week is serious stuff. The Orioles' free fall is almost frightening. Angelos has the plane pointed straight down. Will he pull up in time? Or is this some kind of self-destructive mission he doesn't know he's on?
If the owner were stupid, cheap or mean, then the Orioles' disaster might make sense. But Angelos is a smart, generous, passionate, loyal man, who is no meaner than many of us. Yet he is wrecking his prize possession.
Angelos loves the Orioles. He'd do anything to help them. Except, that is, the one thing they desperately need for him to do. To pull his team out of this nosedive, Angelos needs to admit that his biggest problem is himself. Until he changes the way he mis-evaluates his employees, his ownership will continue to be one full of heartbreak and defeat.
Angelos is delightfully tart in conversation. He loves to gossip and analyze personalities. He even likes to listen. In fact, he is either normal or charming on every subject except one -- himself.
Never have I met a man so passionate about defending every iota of his record and reputation. He remembers every detail of every squabble he's ever been in. You could say he argues each point like a lawyer. But perhaps he became a lawyer because he finds it natural to contest every point, stall for a continuance whenever he doesn't like the lay of the land and, ultimately, demand retrial after retrial whenever he loses.
For Angelos, especially on Orioles topics, no case is ever closed. There's always a new motion, more fresh evidence or a new way of presenting an old defense. He can't let anything go. He can't simply admit he was wrong.
In the law, or in business, perhaps it is possible to be right 100 percent of the time. Or, at least, refuse to admit that you are wrong 100 percent of the time. But, in baseball, that kind of scorekeeping will absolutely kill you. In baseball, if you win 60 percent of your games, or do well on 60 percent of your signings, trades or draft picks, you're a genius.
Nobody Angelos hires is ever good enough to meet his standards for very long; yet he is, in his own eyes, almost never wrong. Or, if he was wrong, somebody led him into the error with bad information or bad motives. For a top baseball executive this is a toxic combination.
For example, everybody in baseball thinks Pat Gillick, Doug Melvin, Kevin Malone and Frank Wren are first-rate operatives. Which means these men are wrong -- in evaluating talent, making trades and deciding which free agents are worth how much -- almost half the time. In baseball, that's a good batting average. But, to Angelos, that wasn't good enough.
When they try to explain the complex variables in their baseball decisions -- that is, when they try to educate him in their world of subtle gray shadings -- he thinks they're trying to alibi for their mistakes.
For example, Angelos is still steamed at Wren because the Orioles got stuck with a $1.75 million settlement to Xavier Hernandez, a pitcher who turned out to be injured. Get a grip, Peter. That's peanuts. In baseball, one great deal -- like stealing Jason Johnson from the Devil Rays -- makes up for a dozen little sins.
The time has come for the Orioles' owner to assess his own performance. Time and again, he has supervised the hiring and firing of GMs and managers. He picked 'em, then fired 'em. So, he either picked wrong. Or he fired wrong. You can't have it both ways. He's either poor at due diligence or he hasn't got a clue about handling employees. And those are an owner's two biggest areas of responsibility. With hindsight, Angelos picks well, but once he has to deal with a human being rather than a resume, he actually fires the cream of the crop.
No matter whom the Orioles hire to be their next general manager and manager, they will not be any better than Roland Hemond, Doug Melvin, Pat Gillick, Kevin Malone, Frank Wren, Johnny Oates or Davey Johnson. All were fired, resigned or left because of neglect or disrespect. The new choices -- considering the candidates -- probably will be a distinct step down.
The Orioles' problem isn't picking people. The issue is Angelos's inability to support the imperfect humans he selects. Instead, he distances himself from them so he can delude himself that he's not part of the problem. In fact, he is the central problem.
Admitting it would be the first step toward solving it.