The Peter Principles (Ch. 2): The error of tyranny at Camden Yards

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On November 2, the Orioles hired longtime baseball scout Syd Thrift to head up the minor league system and the internal backlash at The Warehouse was palpable. Thrift came at the recommendation of local agent Ron Shapiro, who brought his name up with Joe Foss as a baseball man who was looking for work. Angelos and Thrift hit it off immediately.

Columnist Ken Rosenthal, who was in his eighth year in Baltimore covering sports for The Sun, wrote a column the next day deriding the decision that was full of quotes from insiders claiming that Orioles VP of Finance Joe Foss, who acted somewhat like a team president after Larry Lucchino was relieved of his C.E.O. duties the morning after Angelos closed on the sale of the team in October 1993, was the one who hired Syd Thrift.

“The banker hired the farm director,” Rosenthal wrote. “The issue is not Thrift’s ability –he possesses one of the game’s sharpest minds. And it’s not his senior-citizen status, though the new front office motto should be, “Don’t trust anyone under 55.” The issue is Thrift’s train-wreck personality. Club officials know his history. They fear he’ll be self-centered, egotistical, and potentially even a back-stabber. Davey Johnson was viewed in much the same way, and that was one reason the Orioles hired Phil Regan as manager.”

Rosenthal continued: “The four-man search committee that chose the manager and farm director included two suits – Foss and attorney Russ Smouse. When will Angelos learn? If you don’t trust your baseball people, fire ’em – just keep the bankers and lawyers away. General manager Roland Hemond claims he’s not worried about Thrift angling for his job, but it almost would serve him right. Hemond has been so worried about Frank Robinson replacing him that he resisted a promotion that would have put him on the same level as Foss.

“I wouldn’t agree that we had a lot of resistance from the baseball people about this move,” Foss told Rosenthal. “Some of the baseball people wondered about Syd’s age. They wondered about the fact he had been a former GM. They wondered if he was seriously interested in this position. He clearly articulated his passion for player development. Everyone who has had a career in professional sports over a long period has people who are supportive, and people who aren’t. We made sure as we talked to others in baseball that we had a complete picture of Syd.”

Later in the article, Rosenthal was almost prescient regarding those initial warnings from his sources inside The Warehouse, who had advised him that any guy who would write a self-published book called “The World According to Syd,” wouldn’t be a strong team member inside the world of Angelos’ Orioles.

Rosenthal continued: “For all the tension during the Melvin-Robinson power struggle, the Orioles’ front office always worked together. The fear is that Thrift will follow his own agenda, and take credit for everything but Camden Yards. Naturally, Thrift scoffs at such talk. “That crushes me, ticks me off,” he said, referring to the criticism that has followed him his entire career. “I’ve got more friends than all those people put together. How can you be egotistical when you don’t know very much? I think people confuse enthusiasm with ego. That’s a shame. Enthusiasm is like air in a tire. I see too many flat tires every day.”

Before most people had their morning coffee and reading, Angelos had exploded with anger, rage and intimidation regarding Rosenthal and his column in The Sun. Angelos faxed off a press release to give his side of the story:

“The recent selection of Syd Thrift as Director of Player Development has given rise to uninformed, unfounded, and, in my judgment, malevolent speculation on the part of certain members of the press as to Mr. Thrift’s role in the Orioles organization. To suggest that Mr. Thrift is going to usurp the role of the General Manager or Assistant General Manager is both irresponsible and juvenile. . . .

 “I wish to reiterate my frequently expressed confidence in Roland Hemond and to state yet again my great personal regard for him. With Roland and Frank Robinson we have an appropriate and properly structured baseball front office operation which I am certain will serve the Orioles well. . . . It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. Thrift has been subjected to a measure of sniping and character attack by certain irresponsible writers whose commitment to factual discussion and objective analysis are truly suspect. . . .

“How can a responsible newspaper allow one of its so-called columnists, who is nothing more than a character assassin and name caller, to write such vitriolic nonsense, hiding behind unnamed ‘club officials’ for his cover. . . .

“The brickbats thrown at [Foss] were absolutely misdirected and offensive in the extreme. Those particular comments represent the caterwaulings of an insolent twit whose journalistic fulminations vilify and randomly splatter written bile upon those with whom, in his distorted state of mind, he disagrees.”

Clearly, Peter G. Angelos, despite his brilliance in the law profession, had very little experience dealing with the sports media and this was his new weapon of choice in the public forum: the press release.

He had lost a few elections in the 1960s while trying to manipulate and garner notoriety to win a public office but the media of the 1990s was a different animal. Angelos was aghast, simply furious that any internal information was escaping The Warehouse. He worked in the legal profession and leaked information could cost you a case, cost someone their freedom, cost millions of dollars. Foss came from a similar world of confidentiality in the banking space.

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