As the Orioles conclude an exciting first half of the 2008 season, president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has surpassed his one-year anniversary in Baltimore. PressBox publisher Stan “The Fan” Charles caught up with MacPhail to take a look back at the year, his career and the future of the Birds.
SC: When you took over a year ago, you said that when you were with the Twins, they had an identity and that’s what you hoped you would be able to say about your team. How have the Orioles developed an identity and how would you describe that identity?
AM: Well, at the present time, the present group is extraordinarily resilient. I think they lead the league in come-from-behind wins, and they have really developed that sort of identity much quicker than I ever dreamed we would have. By and large, they’ve done the things asked in terms of playing with some energy, effort and enthusiasm, and it has really paid off for us in terms of overcoming a lot of deficits in the course of the season so far.
SC: You describe the Twins back then as a squad that other teams didn’t like to play. Do you think the Orioles are becoming that type of team?
AM: I would hope so. I’m sure a lot of people looked at our schedule at the beginning of the year and looked to the point where we came in and thought that they would be getting a little bit of a breather, and fortunately to this point it hadn’t worked out that way. Our guys have really been remarkable. They’ve been tough, and I think that part of it has been the fact that we have a bullpen that by and large has been awfully effective, and it has given our players some hope that even if we’re done, if we keep knocking away at it, they have a chance of winning because the bullpen might shut down the opponents.
SC: There seems to be a little bit of euphoria around Baltimore. How do you guard against feeling euphoric at being .500?
AM: Well, clearly it is a team that’s fun to watch, and it really has been fun, the first portion of the season. But I don’t think they want to be a .500 team. They have higher aspirations, I have higher aspirations, Peter has higher aspirations. So again, you have to do things on a case-by-case basis that you think are best for the team.
SC: How was your relationship with Peter Angelos built up before you got here?
AM: Well, Peter and I first spent time together in 2002 during the collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the Players Association. It was an important time for baseball, and I felt a lot of pressure to try to have an agreement that would help the game, help the clubs and not result in another labor interruption like we had had in the previous nine times before. As the meetings approached the deadline — there had been a deadline set, where the players were going to leave — the meetings got more and more intense. Most of that preparation was done by staff people in New York, so that left Peter and I spending a lot of time together before the next meeting. So we had a chance to get to know each other a little bit there, and we repeated the process in 2006, and I always found that if he said he was going to do something, he did it. I certainly was comfortable with him. He’s the owner, and I don’t expect him to abdicate the ownership, but the relationship that I have with him is not a lot different from [what I had with] Carl Pohlad when I was with Minnesota. I certainly don’t trade Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard without his consent.
SC: Was having a previous relationship with Dave Trembley a key to his getting the manager’s job?
AM: Yeah, I think it helped, no question about it. Looking back on my first year, I’m really starting to understand how much of an asset it was to be able to come here, really starting at the end of June, and get the opportunity just to watch, rather than coming in fresh in the offseason and not really knowing for sure what some of the issues might have been. That was really a big plus for me, and I had that advantage going in with Dave. I already knew Dave, and I knew he was devoted to trying to make sure that the game was played the way he felt that it should be played.
SC: Trembley has a contract through this year with a club option for next year. Is that something you feel needs to be addressed?
AM: I think there is a time and a place for everything, and I think there’s plenty of time. As you mentioned, the club has an option for the 2009 season already. Generally, I’ve been of the mind that you don’t have to make any decisions before you have to. I think we’ve made no secret of the fact that we’re absolutely delighted with the job that Dave has done. I think he is a perfect fit for this franchise, and in a lot of respects I would hope that the two of us will be working together for a long time.
SC: Last season, after Trembley had the interim tag removed, and after Texas scored 30 runs in a game at Camden Yards, the team went into a slump. Did you ever have second thoughts about extending Dave’s contract? And did you ever have second thoughts about taking the job?
AM: No, I certainly didn’t have any second thoughts about me taking the job. I think one of those things that I mentioned as such an asset was coming here in June. Getting to see for myself, watching what happened, I think in a lot of respect it shaped the philosophy we had going forward this offseason. It’s one of those blessings in disguise that was well-disguised at the time.
Also, you get to learn about Dave. He had a rough go right from the start after the extension, but he didn’t really change his approach; he was the same guy. And I told him, “Look, you know everything’s been going pretty good for you but I promise you, in this game, you’re going to have some tough times, and the measure of people in this sport is often how they do in the tough times, not in the good times.”
SC: When you resigned from the Chicago Cubs organization, there was a point in the press conference when you got emotional and said, ‘This is the first thing I’ve done in baseball that I didn’t have a high level of success at.’ Was your desire to come back to team baseball, instead of working toward becoming MLB commissioner or president, driven in part by that lack of success you had in Chicago?
AM: Well my success level was that I wanted to get the Cubs back in the World Series, and we ended up coming five outs short in 2003. I would have thought, had we gotten to the World Series I would have considered my time there a success. It was a pretty clear standard of measure. They hadn’t been there in a lot of years. Get the franchise back to the point where it gets to the World Series, and I’m a happy guy. We made a lot of progress and a lot of good things there, but that’s something that we didn’t accomplish.
SC: Does Baltimore hold a special place in your heart because it’s where your love of baseball began?
AM: Oh, absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. Several years ago, I had lunch with some of the front office members in Chicago, and we all talked about a job that we would like to have before we retire, and this was my pick. Clearly, there are a lot of pleasant memories I have of Baltimore, particularly the Orioles. And this has been a lot of fun to sort of walk in my father’s footsteps, and I hope I’m remotely as successful as he was.
SC: If you had to give the Orioles a score on how the front office ran all aspects of the organization — scouting, player development, trades, free agency — prior to your coming here on a scale of 1-10, how would the organization score?
AM: First of all, I don’t think that the farm system was barren by any means. I do think that history will show that there will be more players on our board coming up through the minor league system in Baltimore than there were in Chicago when I got there, or in Minnesota, for that matter. So in my prior job, I wasn’t really that in tune with the day-to-day operations of any one particular club, but hopefully I had a reasonable handle in Chicago. Here, what I’ve found is that we’ve got some prospects on the way. Obviously we’ve got more pitching that hitting, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d take the pitchers.
SC: Describe your ideal situation for the Orioles’ spring training.
AM: I’d like our minor leagues closer than they are now. They’re too far away. If it was a good idea, somebody else would have copied it by now. It’s something that no other club does. You don’t have to be continuous; you just have to be closer.
SC: What would you most like to convince Orioles fans of in terms of the direction the ballclub is heading?
AM: I think that actions speak louder than words. I think they’re good fans, and they know what they’re looking at on the field. And you just tell them what you’re trying to accomplish, and they’ll be the judge as to how you’re progressing. Again, we’ve been pretty clear with what it is we want to do and how we want to do it, and so far we’re probably a little further along than we expected at this time.
Issue 3.26: June 26, 2008