- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

BALTIMORE The Baltimore Orioles held their annual player evaluation meeting yesterday, a six-hour gathering of the franchise's coaches, scouts and front office members to discuss the organization's future prospects.
There is no question that on the heels of a fifth straight losing season and the current horrendous stretch that extended to 4-31 following last night's 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees, the Orioles need to do some re-evaluating of their on-field talent.
A more significant matter, however, may not center around those who are in uniforms but those who decide who will wear them next season. As Baltimore's disappointing 2002 baseball season comes to a merciful end today, many are wondering whether a front-office shakeup is imminent.
Speculation has been rampant in recent weeks with regards to three key front office officials on the hot seat: vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift, director of minor league operations Don Buford and director of scouting Tony DeMacio.
In his third season in charge of the Orioles' farm system, Buford saw the franchise's top three affiliates (Class AAA Rochester, Class AA Bowie and Class A Frederick) finish a combined 109 games under .500.
In four seasons as head of scouting, DeMacio has seen a host of top draft picks (particularly pitchers) suffer arm injuries, several of which required major surgery.
The ultimate responsibility, however, for the Orioles' recent demise will rest squarely on the shoulders of Thrift, a front office member for eight seasons (the last three as Baltimore's de facto general manager). Thrift, 73, who ran yesterday's organizational meeting, could have his fate determined as soon as tomorrow, though majority owner Peter Angelos may elect to wait before announcing any decisions.
While there has been speculation that Thrift could be fired, a more plausible scenario would see the longtime baseball man shifted to another organizational position with someone else taking over GM duties.
Whoever is running the show in 2003 is going to have a tough job. What was once considered a promising season for the Orioles has deteriorated into one of disappointment. Last night's loss was Baltimore's 11th in a row the club's longest losing streak since its infamous 0-21 start to the 1988 season.
"You go through something like this and the frustration just builds and builds," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Everything you try as a manager, coach or player doesn't seem to work with any consistency, and that makes it even worse. The only thing you can do is look at every day as the start of a new string."
The Orioles' offense is in desperate need of an upgrade, as evidenced by last night's futile effort against the playoff-bound Yankees. Shut out for seven innings by David Wells (19-7) and Ramiro Mendoza, Baltimore scored late runs on Geronimo Gil's eighth-inning homer off Mariano Rivera and Tony Batista's ninth-inning sacrifice fly off Mike Stanton.
Otherwise, the Orioles were at the mercy of the opposing pitching staff, just as they have been throughout this late-season swoon.
Hargrove sent just one player to the plate last night with a batting average over .256 (first baseman Jeff Conine at .273). Yankees manager Joe Torre's starting lineup included five batters hitting at least .296 (Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams and Chris Widger).
Buddy Groom entered with two out in the ninth last night, making his 70th relief appearance. The veteran left-hander is the first pitcher in major league history to appear in at least 70 games for seven straight seasons.
The Orioles have scored three or fewer runs in 80 of their 161 games this season. Their record in those games is 8-72. Last night's crowd of 48,165 represented the fifth sellout of the season at Camden Yards.

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