Citing insurmountable differences in their styles, Angel President Richard Brown fired General Manager Mike Port on Tuesday.
Dan O’Brien, the Angels’ senior vice president for baseball operations, will assume Port’s duties for the rest of the season, although he will not assume Port’s title.
Port, 45, had been with the Angels since 1977, progressing from director of player personnel to vice president and chief administrative officer in 1980. He added the title of general manager Sept. 1, 1984, succeeding Buzzie Bavasi. He ceded the title of CEO last November to Brown, who was the club’s legal counsel and a member of its board of directors.
Conservative in manner, Port was perceived as heartless for releasing such fan favorites as Rod Carew after the 1986 season, Doug DeCinces a week before the end of the 1987 season and letting Bob Boone become a free agent after the 1988 season. Brown said he would like to start an alumni association and would welcome the return of Brian Downing, another popular player who was not retained this season and signed with the Texas Rangers.
“I had two choices,” Brown said at a news conference at Anaheim Stadium. “I could have addressed the perception of people saying, ‘Why was it done now?’ or I could have continued with something I knew wasn’t working. I came in with a solution and you go forward. . . .
“I’m not dumb. I don’t fire people three weeks into the season. This was a matter of style. . . . It’s just how you run an organization, communication. I can’t fault Mike regarding personnel. I’ve been extremely involved in personnel decisions since I came on board. I thought there was some problem throughout the organization with communication.”
Most players didn’t learn of Port’s firing until they arrived at Anaheim Stadium for Tuesday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians, and the move was an unpleasant surprise to first baseman Wally Joyner. Despite his contract differences with Port, Joyner said he became friendly with Port and was “a little upset” over Tuesday’s events.
“The front office would rather have problems communicating with the players than communicating with each other,” Joyner said. “That’s what happened today.”
Brown said he acted after conferring with owners Gene and Jackie Autry. A club spokesman said the Autrys authorized Brown to speak for them and had no other comment. Port could not be reached, but he is expected to issue a statement today.
Port’s dismissal followed by days his assertion that: “Sometimes it gets to the point where you have to consider personnel changes, but I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”
Port became the first change, a move Brown said was prompted by his self-imposed, six-month deadline for evaluating personnel, rather than by the team’s slow start.
Expected to contend for the American League West title after signing free-agent third baseman Gary Gaetti and acquiring designated hitter Dave Parker, the Angels instead are struggling. They were swept by the Oakland Athletics last weekend and were 9-10 before Tuesday’s game.
“If every time we lose a series of games I fired somebody, by the end of the season I’ll be all alone,” said Brown, who added that six months of working with the garrulous O’Brien convinced him that O’Brien had the “right style” for the job.
“This is an action that must be divorced totally from the field performance,” Brown said. “We have an outstanding team. It’s been a little frustrating. We have the utmost confidence in the team and the coaches.
“I understand an announcement like this is more typical at the All-Star break. When I took over Nov. 1, I said I would have to evaluate our staff. We are planning not only for this year, but for next year and years beyond. We have the June draft coming. It seemed sensible to me to make sure the people that will be with us can be doing the planning now.”
Brown added he is happy with Bill Bavasi, the director of minor league operations, and Bob Fontaine, the club’s scouting director.
Joyner, who has been with the Angels since 1986, intimated that O’Brien--who has handled contract negotiations the last two years--was more the source of his past unhappiness than Port. Joyner smiled inscrutably when told that Brown cited style and communication problems as his reason for dismissing Port.
“There’s a lot of things I could say, a lot of things that should be said, but why say them?” said Joyner, who won salary arbitration cases the last two winters and will be eligible for free agency after this season. “Nothing I say is going to bring the guy back, because he shouldn’t have gotten fired in the first place--for that reason.
“Basically, the last couple of years they’ve been trying to eliminate Mike Port anyway, right? What I was looking forward to was being able to negotiate with Mike Port again at the end of this year. My battles with Mike Port were very small, minuscule.”
Asked whether O’Brien’s ascent to the general manager’s job might make him less likely to re-sign with the Angels, Joyner replied: “I can’t say that right now. I can say I was looking forward to negotiating with Mike Port.”
Angel Manager Doug Rader said he never had problems communicating with Port, despite the appearance of a rift between them last summer. “Our relationship has always been extremely professional,” Rader said. “I got to know Mike very well and I respect him very much as a man. He’s honest, loyal, intelligent and conscientious. It’s a shame.”
He added that any philosophical differences “evidently were between Mike and Rich. . . . I don’t know what the differences were.”
O’Brien, general manager of the Texas Rangers from 1974-78 and had front-office positions with the Indians and Seattle Mariners, said he plans no radical departures from the work done by Port.
“We’re not going to throw the book away,” said O’Brien, 62. “We’re on course, but different people bring different things to a job. I’m sure there’ll be some rearranging of pages. I think our front office is in good shape. I like our team. I think the staff on the field is first rate. Time brings changes. . . .
“Changes are a part of this baseball business, as we all know. I haven’t sent my laundry out in 37 years.”