do you think any rich man would trust a Dominican with his money?" chided
Ramon Pe�a, his old Dominican scouting competitor and pal. "You've got to
A rich man would
have to look past more than the color of O's skin to let him in the club. He
would have to imagine an executive who didn't keep to-do lists, whose desktop
was barren of paper, whose expense accounts were filed by emptying months of
crumpled receipts from his pocket onto an assistant's desk. To trust a
commander who carried no crackling air of authority, whose shoelaces might be
untied, who transferred his cellphone from his ear to his mouth and back, as if
it were a walkie-talkie, to make sure of the hookup. Know what I'm sayin'?
That's what O asked after nearly everything he said. That's what mattered most:
that you knew what he was sayin' and he knew what you were sayin', that he was
connecting with people, not controlling them. Could rich men and baseball
lifers grasp the power of the circle? "It's going to happen," O told
He flew to Los
Angeles in the autumn of 1998 to interview for the Dodgers' G.M. job. Didn't
get it, but then every candidate needs a warmup or two under his belt. The
Milwaukee Brewers called him in '99, then the Colorado Rockies. Great
interview, great nose for talent, extraordinary interpersonal skills, they'd
say. Lacks administrative skills, they'd whisper, and let what O didn't have
eclipse what he did.
He interviewed for
the Mariners' and the Anaheim Angels' jobs that same year. O was becoming
O-fer. O for 3 ... 4 ... 5. The Pittsburgh Pirates called a year later. Now he
was trapped, risking a reputation as a serial runner-up if he accepted every
interview offer, risking the future for all minorities if he didn't. O went to
Pittsburgh. O for 6.
The tide had
shifted. Teams were hiring Ivy League grads to be their G.M.'s, lawyers and
businessmen and statmongers who'd never hit fungoes to a flock of skinny
16-year-olds and picked out the weed that would bloom five years later. O's
frustration grew. "Look, if you want paperwork, I'm not your guy," he'd
tell his inquisitors. "I see the job in bigger terms. Paperwork, that's
false hustle. It takes away creativity. People who are into paperwork are into
covering their asses, so if things go wrong they can point to all the work they
did. They're thinking more about failure than success. The more paperwork the
opposition does, the better my chances are. Know what I'm sayin'?"
His old team, the
Rangers, called. Their management had changed, but this couldn't be a token
interview. Someone there had to know what he brought to the table. He never
made it to the table, intercepted at the airport by the team's headhunter, Bob
Beaudine. A half hour into the interview, Beaudine found himself thinking, Wow!
He carries a room. He's got dignity, character. You know it, you feel it right
away. You feel good with him. He's a great listener. He hears the heart of the
question. G.M.? Sure, but this man's a senator. He could facilitate change at
the international level. He's a possibility opener. He's a community.
He didn't get the
Rangers job. The headhunter became another dear friend. O for 7.
contortions would it take for MLB to find space for O? This many: In December
2001 the Boston Red Sox would have to be sold to the owner of the Florida
Marlins, John W. Henry, who would have to sell the Marlins to the owner of the
Montreal Expos, Jeffrey Loria, who would have to sell the Expos to Major League
Baseball--in order for MLB to erase them from existence. It would probably take
a year or two of planning, like any deft murder, but in the meantime, someone
would have to be the general manager of the Expos ... no?
O got the phone
call during a family vacation in the Dominican Republic. It was Bud Selig,
commissioner of Major League Baseball, the new owner of the Expos, eager to
cover two corporate black eyes with one powder puff. The team was miserable,
its payroll and fan base a farce, the job likely brief, but--pssst, hurry!--the
backdoor was open to the kitchen of the club.
No, wait. It was
worse than that. O flew home from the Dominican Republic, reported to MLB's
offices in New York City and discovered--three days before pitchers and
catchers were to report--that he had six people on his staff. In the entire
organization, including his five minor league teams. Loria had stripped the
franchise and hauled off the parts--humans, computers, scouting reports, radar