UNEMPLOYED? HERE’S ONE OPENING

By Murray Chass

January 20, 2011

Bud Selig hasn’t reached the point where he will ask for volunteers, but he may get there.Frank Robinson 225

The baseball commissioner is looking for someone to fill the vacancy in the position of executive vice president for baseball operations, but the prime candidates for the job have the same strike against them that stops Selig from naming one of them to the position: they are not prepared to show up for work every day at Major League Baseball headquarters at 245 Park Avenue in Manhattan.

I don’t know with 100 percent certainty that Joe Torre, Frank Robinson and Joe Garagiola Jr. are prime candidates, but I think there’s a pretty good likelihood of that being so. On the other hand, if Selig has a problem with each one, can they really be considered legitimate candidates?

Robinson and Garagiola already work in the commissioner’s office, holding similar titles. Garagiola is senior vice president for baseball operations, Robinson senior vice president for major league operations (don’t ask me the difference).

It would seem natural to promote one of them to executive vice president for baseball operations; it would take only a small change in either’s title. But Selig has talked to neither one about the job.

Selig has had several discussions with Torre about a job in the commissioner’s office. Neither has identified the job, but it has to be the baseball operations post because that is the only one vacant.

In addition, when Torre has been quoted about it in newspaper and Internet reports he has emphasized that he wants to continue living in Los Angeles, where he and his family relocated from his life-long residence in New York when he managed the Dodgers.

But that’s Selig’s problem with Torre, and that’s his problem with Robinson and Garagiola. New York is not the everyday home of any of them. Robinson, like Torre, lives in Los Angeles. Garagiola has maintained his residence in Phoenix, where he lived when he was general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

When I called Garagiola at his New York office the other day, his secretary said he was working in the Phoenix office this week.

Joe Garagiola Jr 225Major League Baseball’s Western Operations office is in Phoenix, but only one executive works there on a full-time basis. He is Laurel Prieb, vice president for western operations and special projects, who is also Selig’s son-in-law.

Selig was traveling Wednesday and not available to discuss his search, but it became necessary last June when he took the highly unusual step – for him – of removing an executive from his position.

The executive was Jimmie Lee Solomon, and his position was executive vice president for baseball operations. It was a questionable match from the start because Solomon had had no hands-on baseball experience when he succeeded Sandy Alderson in the post June 1, 2005.

When I encountered Solomon on the field before Game 3 of the 2005 World Series, when he was dealing with a dispute over the park’s retractable roof, he looked out of place.

One of Solomon’s responsibilities was supervision of umpires, but after a series of scandalous umpiring gaffes last season he was bumped elsewhere in the commissioner’s office.

Nine days after an admittedly wrong call by umpire Jim Joyce on what should have been the last out cost Armando Galarraga of Detroit a perfect game, the commissioner’s office issued a news release.

“Jimmie Lee Solomon has been named the Executive Vice President (EVP) of Baseball Development,” it said, “while John McHale, currently the EVP of Administration, will also serve as the interim EVP of Baseball Operations. Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who had been a Special Assistant to Commissioner Selig, has been named Senior Vice President of Major League Operations and will oversee Major League operations, international operations, umpiring and security. Robinson will assist and report directly to McHale.”

It was a rare Selig move, probably a first, demoting a high-ranking

executive. He would deny that it was a demotion, but how else to view the removal of one of five executive vice presidents who populate the commissioner’s office and the creation of a sixth position with that title so it would look like a lateral move?

Solomon is African-American, which made Selig’s decision especially sensitive, but he could have eliminated that issue by naming Robinson to the position and giving him the title. The commissioner, however, stopped at “senior,” and didn’t go as far as “executive” vice president.

I have long been a Robinson supporter. When Ralph Houk resigned as the Yankees’ manager following the 1973 season, I wrote that they should hire Robinson to be the majors’ first black manager. They didn’t, but a year later the Cleveland Indians did.

Robinson was said to be angry that Selig was talking to Torre but had not spoken to him about the job. Before I learned of the commissioner’s desire to have his new executive vice president working full-time in New York, I tried to reach Robinson for an interview.

He responded to an e-mail request to talk about his situation by replying “no comment.”

Selig did not know until he talked to Torre that he planned to remain a Los Angeles resident. He already knew Robinson’s geographical preference.

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Torre would most likely have the job if he were willing to return to New York.

“It’s a matter of Torre wanting to live in L.A.,” a baseball official familiar with Selig’s thinking said. “That won’t work. Bud is waiting to hear back. The commissioner is a big at-his-desk-every-day-all-day kind of person.

Bud wants people at their desks.”

John McHale Jr., executive vice president for administration, fits Selig’s descriptions of a good executive. “McHale is a phone call away all the time,” the official said. “He likes that.”

“When Sandy was in that position from 1998 to 2005,” the official added, “he was at his desk every single day like Bud. Bud knew where to find him when he wanted him. A lot of people work for baseball operations and Bud wants the head guy to be where they can talk to him.”

Selig confirmed that he was seeking someone for the position.

“I’m still looking,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I’ve talked to a fair number of people. We’ll look at all the aspects of the job. We need someone with on-field experience. It’s an intense job. Do I think you have to spend a lot of time in New York? You bet. There’s also a lot of travel involved.”

Interested parties, send applications to the commissioner’s office, not here.  Selig’s office, of course, is in Milwaukee.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.