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Orioles General Manager Duquette: A Comeback Story Fit For Baseball


The best kind of baseball story is a comeback story - the batter who sank into what appeared to be a terminal slump, only to rediscover his swing and his power - the pitcher who lost his stuff for a season and came back as a world beater, possibly thanks to surgery - the team that appeared out of it in August and roared back in the playoffs in September.

Well, here's a different kind of comeback. The general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who will now play Kansas City for the American League pennant, is Dan Duquette. Duquette spent a decade out of Major League Baseball after being dropped as general manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002. Keith Law writes about baseball for ESPN, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

KEITH LAW: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: How unusual is it for somebody to leave the game for ten years, come back and put together a team that's as good as the Orioles?

LAW: It is unusual because baseball is so much a relationship business. So it's not just how good of a job you do, but who else you know within the game that keeps you employed, especially in senior roles. And when Dan Duquette left as general manager of the Red Sox, even though he'd done a fairly good job of rebuilding the organization and the farm system, he didn't have a patron of sorts to keep him in that cycle of general manager. And so it was really a perfect storm in Baltimore, where others had turned down the opportunity - either turned down the job or turned down an interview - that created the chance for Dan Duquette, who, at that point, was truly an outsider, to come back in and takeover running a Major League club.

SIEGEL: Now, let's talk about the ten years - what he was doing between Boston and Baltimore. He ran the Dan Duquette Sports Academy. He started the Israel Baseball League, which then ended. He owned a couple of independent teams. He was really off in the wilderness during that time.

LAW: He was. He was really outside of the normal baseball circles. It says a lot about Dan that he was still so heavily involved in baseball, particularly in the amateur side, which is, to some degree, a world apart. He must really just love the game, and I think he really thought he still had something to offer.

SIEGEL: One decision that I guess Dan Duquette made was to sign Nelson Cruz - big slugging home run champion, I guess, in the league this year - who had been suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. Risky decision?

LAW: Risky decision, and a big difference - and this is in a positive way - between new Dan Duquette with Baltimore and old Dan Duquette in his previous jobs as general manager. Old Dan Duquette was very focused on the farm system - on acquiring prospects and keeping them. To sign Nelson Cruz, Baltimore had to give up a high draft pick.

And I think, previously, Dan Duquette would have viewed that as too steep of a cost to pay. But new Dan Duquette recognized that they were getting Nelson Cruz at a significant discount because of the suspension. And I don't think they're going to cry over the loss of the draft pick, given how much Cruz has produced for them in the short term. And to me, it's just a great example of the evolution of Dan Duquette from his time in Montreal and Boston to his time here in Baltimore.

SIEGEL: Just being 10 years older, or was the experience way out of Major League Baseball, you think, character building for him? Or what would you say?

LAW: That would be my guess. Being outside the game and yet, still obviously very much a fan of the game - watching the changes in the game, the evolution of front offices because baseball really did undergo a revolution in those ten years where statistical analysis went from a fringe, almost crazy concept to something that 28 or 29 of the organizations are now doing actively.

SIEGEL: They make a movie about it with "Moneyball." Yeah.

LAW: Yes, absolutely, which comes up all the time. Every time Oakland loses, somebody wags their finger and says, Billy shouldn't have made that movie. But it does show you that they were seen as cranks 10, 15 years ago. Now everybody's doing that to some degree.

And I think Duquette realized on the outside, too, that is changing the way that players were valued as assets by front offices and that he would need, coming into Baltimore, where the mandate was to win right away - he would need a different approach. And I give him all the credit in the world for changing the way that he viewed players and how to acquire them and how to value them.

SIEGEL: That's ESPN baseball insider Keith Law talking with us about the incredible comeback of Dan Duquette. Thanks for talking with us.

LAW: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.