this?" O asked his administrative assistant, Marcia Schnaar, when she faxed
him the employee list from Montreal. "A joke?" He heard no laughter. He
reached for the telephone in his office. O.K., so it was the umpire's video
room at MLB headquarters. He reached for his Rolodex. O.K., so it was a pile of
paper scraps stuffed in a manila folder. But no one in baseball had a circle of
friends the size of O's.
Hey, Tony, got a
job for you, how 'bout it?
What's the job,
What job you
He arrived at the
Expos' training camp in Jupiter, Fla., looked at his crew of orphans and felt
right at home. He saw his backyard in Valverde Mao. He smelled history refried.
Hadn't Jackie Robinson, baseball's first black player, and Clemente, its first
Latino superstar, been farmed out to Montreal to prove they were worthy of
breaking barriers in America? He and his new assistant G.M., Tony Siegle, set
O awoke at four
each morning, arrived at five, worked till 10 at night. Lunch? Wolf down a
salad from the players' spread. Dinner? Order in sandwiches. The phones
sizzled, O looking for help, help looking for O. The office buzzed like
mayflies with 24 hours to live. But O trusted tomorrow. The trust spread.
"He energized everyone," says his farm director, Adam Wogan. "You
wanted to do it for Omar. You'd run through a wall for him." Suddenly it
was July and the Expos, 68--94 the previous season, were in second place, their
dark, once-empty coffin of a stadium rattling to life.
What was the G.M.
of a team on the verge of liquidation, impaled on the spike of a $38 million
payroll--half what his opponents averaged--doing pestering his MLB masters
every day to cobble long-term megadollar deals with Vlad Guerrero and Jose
Vidro? What was he doing trading for stars such as Bartolo Colon and Cliff
Floyd? What was he doing drafting a Cal State-- Fullerton relief pitcher, Chad
Cordero, in the first round in 2003 and using him to patch the Expos' leaky
bullpen a few months later, after Cordero had pitched 261/3 innings of Class A
ball? O was operating outside the box, way outside it, and most of it was
working. Montreal finished second in '02 and was tied for the NL wild card with
a month left in '03 before finishing in fourth place, four games over .500 for
the second straight year.
But it wasn't just
O's trading trigger finger that was itchy. He was a reflexive redeemer, his
mother's son. The leftfielder who'd pleaded guilty to assaulting his first
wife, Wil Cordero? The cancer survivor, Andres Galarraga? The over-the-hill,
self-absorbed rightfielder, Jose Canseco? The surly switch-hitter who didn't
believe in dinosaurs or the moon landing, Carl Everett? Sign 'em up! cried O,
and he did, convinced that the good in any man would emerge once O bathed him
Any man? Even the
pitcher who slandered the train that clacked straight through O's heart, the
one suspended for saying, "Imagine having to take the 7 train to the
ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with
purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got
out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four
kids. It's depressing"? Yes, O had room even for John Rocker, the
He called Rocker's
agent to see if he could sign him. He wrote Rocker's parents. "I felt for
them," he said. "I felt that my son could make that mistake