By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
12:00 AM CDT, October 4, 2012
Before former club president Andy MacPhail discusses how he personally feels about the Orioles' playoff run this season, a year after he stepped down from his post, he rattles off a checklist.
"First and foremost," he said, "there are just a lot of people I am happy for."
There are the Orioles players, many of whom he brought into the organization. There's manager Buck Showalter, whom MacPhail hired in July 2010. There's owner Peter Angelos, who tried to convince MacPhail to stay last fall. There are those who currently work behind the scenes in the organization, his former foot soldiers. And one other group that must be mentioned, MacPhail said.
"I'm happy for the fans. It's been a generation since they really experienced the thrills of a pennant chase in September and October. It is great to see people wearing the black and orange around town again," said MacPhail, who continues to live in the Baltimore area. "So that's my principal emotion. There are a lot of people there that deserve good things to happen to them."
Then, only after his list is completed, will MacPhail address his own feelings toward the timing of this playoff appearance after 14 consecutive losing seasons, including four-plus with MacPhail at the helm.
"For me personally, there's part of me that's sad I'm not part of the special season that they are having now. It would have been a lot of fun," said MacPhail, who took over the club in June 2007 and left last October. "But also I think, I don't know if it is satisfaction or relief, but at least you know the four years you spent there weren't an entire waste of everybody's time and energy. And that you really worked to put something together that did pay off from where you were."
Although Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette understandably have received most of the credit for the Orioles' surprising 2012, several of MacPhail's moves built the foundation for this current club.
"Andy MacPhail's fingerprints are all over this team," Showalter has said on more than one occasion.
During his Orioles tenure, MacPhail traded for center fielder Adam Jones, shortstop J.J. Hardy, first baseman Mark Reynolds, second baseman Robert Andino and pitchers Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson, Pedro Strop, Troy Patton and Tommy Hunter, among others.
He also was in charge when the organization drafted third baseman Manny Machado and pitchers Dylan Bundy and Brian Matusz and signed Matt Wieters (who was drafted weeks before MacPhail arrived).
And he was the one who brokered the deal to hire Showalter, flying to Dallas for a clandestine meeting in July 2010.
"I'm happy for Buck, because I think he really has found a home here. I think he has made himself synonymous with this franchise," MacPhail said. "He is, in a lot of respects, the face of the franchise, which is a very positive thing."
"When you help bring somebody over, you feel responsible for them, you want them to succeed and be happy here so that you didn't sell them a bill of goods when they came over," MacPhail added. "There were going to be 11 openings that year, managerial openings, and it's hard to believe he wasn't going to get one somewhere. And if there's one smart thing Peter and I did it was that we were smart enough to get first in line."
MacPhail's contract expired at the end of last season. He had planned to step down, but Angelos talked to him about staying, and the discussions lasted about a week. Eventually, MacPhail decided the pull to leave — and specifically the call to spend more time with his elderly father, baseball Hall of Fame executive Lee MacPhail — was too strong.
It's not a decision he regrets. He said he has visited his father in Florida roughly 10 times in the last year — far more than he ever could while running a baseball team.
"I don't think you ever do the wrong thing by doing the right thing. It was time," said MacPhail, who oversaw four last-place teams and posted an overall winning percentage of .415 in his years with the O's. "It was the right thing for me to do. And I'd rather have it be this way [with the Orioles winning], than them mired in another 70-win season."
MacPhail, 59, has spent much of the year traveling with his wife, Lark, and "crossing things off our bucket list."
That includes trips to Nantucket, Mass., and Quebec City, where he wasn't able to visit in previous summers. He also traveled to several countries and was most impressed with Istanbul, Turkey.
Now, MacPhail admits, he is getting the itch to seek gainful employment, though he has no specific plans at this point. It would be surprising if he returned to a general manager type position in which he again had to run the daily baseball operations of a club, but he'll likely be involved in the sport in some capacity.
"I'm way too young to do nothing, so you have to get yourself engaged in something in some shape or form, and who knows which way that may take," MacPhail said. "I think there are a variety of things that would interest me."
MacPhail said he has paid as much attention to the Orioles' season as his traveling would allow. He's watched some games on TV and checks the box scores on his phone. He's been particularly impressed with Duquette's ability to find starting pitching depth in a difficult market, as well as the Orioles' team-concept approach to winning.
"The bullpen has been sensational and they have that dynamic of the two teams I was fortunate enough to be with that were world champions [in Minnesota]. The one key component is that there's a different hero every night and surely the Orioles are having that," MacPhail said. "You just can't rely on the same three or four guys to get you home every night. … It's those things, and you hope they can continue, that will bode well in the month of October."
MacPhail said he's not surprised the Orioles were in a position to do well in 2012. That was his hope. But this well?
"I would not have been surprised at all, maybe even at this point, if they were flirting around .500. I wouldn't have been surprised if you told me they were competing for a wild-card spot," MacPhail said. "I would, however, have been surprised if you told me that they were one game out of the American League East division title [on the final day]. That one I did not see coming. Again, that's a tribute to the amount of starting pitching I think Dan has brought in."
Asked to pinpoint what he is most proud of in his tenure, MacPhail said he might refer to the improvement of the Orioles' infrastructure, both literally and figuratively. Specifically, the organization's move from dilapidated spring training digs in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to a state-of-the facility in Sarasota, Fla., where the minor league complex is minutes, not hours, away. Also, there's the addition of a few, quality homegrown players.
"Peter was great about making the investment in the facilities, making the investment in the amateur draft. We ended up with the third most amount of dough [spent] on the amateur draft of the teams while I was there," he said. "That's the kind of investment you need to make, and now you've got Machado and Bundy and hopefully more to come."
There's also that little detail of hiring Showalter.
"I knew working with him for a while that he is extremely prepared and would have his players prepared," MacPhail said. "I know Buck really doesn't have an off button. But in getting to work with him for a while, you learn he doesn't really have a pause button on him."
Yet, with all the personal relationships he made within the organization since 2007 and the role he played in creating the roster, don't expect to see MacPhail at Camden Yards this postseason. He hasn't been to a game this year — and isn't about to change that, even though Duquette invited him to come out last month.
"I just don't think that's the right thing to do. It could potentially serve as an attention-getting device and nobody needs that distraction," MacPhail said. "Dan is the GM. He has done a terrific job bringing in the pitching, and I don't particularly need to be in there. Although he was kind enough to offer to have me come out, I just don't really think it is the right thing for him."
So MacPhail will stay home, watch the playoffs on TV and root on a team that he helped build. During that time, he said he won't seek the spotlight or feel any special vindication toward critics who hammered him for some of his moves while he was in charge.
"I've been around baseball long enough to know that if things go poorly, there's going to be plenty of blame that gets spread around, and when things go well there's going to be plenty of credit that gets spread around," MacPhail said. "That's just the nature of our sport. And that's not going to change."
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