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Hoping to settle in nicely

Ex-Sox GM Duquette says he’ll be kinder, friendlier in new job with Orioles

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / November 29, 2011
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BALTIMORE - It was always about the Red Sox. When Dan Duquette was working for the Milwaukee Brewers or the Montreal Expos, he was thinking about the Red Sox, dreaming about the Red Sox, working toward the Red Sox. He was, as he said, “training for that opportunity.’’

It was an opportunity he received in 1994 when he was named the team’s general manager. What could be better? They were his first love.

Then, it was over.

And now - 10 years after his tearful exit from his hometown team - Duquette still slips sometimes. He still uses the word “we’’ when he talks about the Red Sox, when he talks about them beating the Yankees or winning the World Series.

That will, perhaps, change in time, as he gets comfortable in his new role as the executive vice president of baseball operations with the Baltimore Orioles. After a decade-long absence, Duquette is back in the game.

His tenure in Boston was marked by the acquisitions of Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, by improvements to the Red Sox farm system, by moves that would help lead to a World Series title in 2004. It was marked, too, by personality conflicts and in-fighting, by strange firings and internal turmoil.

That was why it was so notable that, on the day of the news conference introducing him as part of the Orioles front office, Duquette had said that he wanted to be “kinder and friendlier’’ in his latest foray into major league baseball.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,’’ he clarified the next day, sitting in his spacious office on the third floor of Camden Yards. “I learned that I could be more attentive to certain parts of the job. This time around I’ll make sure that I am, that I do attend to those.’’

Such as, he said, meeting directly with the media.

Maybe that will soften his image, and allow Baltimore fans to see a side of him not often seen in Boston.

In the decade that has followed Duquette’s Boston days, perceptions indeed have changed. He gets more credit and receives less criticism. Because, as former Ramirez agent and now Padres CEO Jeff Moorad said, “Dan set the table in his last years with the Red Sox.’’

A championship impact

To get to that point, Duquette had to change the Red Sox. And he did.

He rebuilt and reorganized the scouting staff and streamlined operations. He worked through the draft and through international acquisitions, finding players who would be traded for major contributors to world champion clubs. He traded for Martinez and signed Ramirez.

He made the unlikely happen.

It was Duquette who, according to Moorad, persuaded Ramirez to take less money in Boston - $160 million over eight years from the Red Sox vs. $173 million over eight years from the Indians with more deferred money.

“There’s always a debate as to whose team it is that succeeds,’’ Moorad said. “Is it the GM that left the year prior or the couple years prior? Or is it the GM that took those pieces, fine-tuned them, added to it, and then achieved success? It’s an ongoing debate in baseball that will never really be answered or be resolved.

“I think Dan probably got caught in that equation a bit.’’

Though it has been a long time since his last major baseball move - the acquisition of Johnny Damon in 2001 - it’s difficult to ignore what Duquette added to the organization, even if he hasn’t always received the credit.

“That’s the way life goes,’’ former Sox CEO John Harrington said. “He left behind a very, very good team and the people that took over, [John] Henry and [Tom] Werner and [Larry] Lucchino, they knew it was a very good team and they expressed appreciation to both he and me after they won the World Series in ’04. So, little by little, he gets some acknowledgement for that.’’

As his cousin and former Orioles executive Jim Duquette said, “I think most baseball people, most reasonable baseball people, recognize the impact that he had on that World Series team. There’s just no way that World Series team wins without the contributions that Dan made.’’

Duquette might have set the stage for years of success, but as the fans of Boston showered their love on successor Theo Epstein, Duquette was not afforded the same admiration - from the fans, writers, or players.

Asked why, Duquette said, “I can tell you this, Boston’s a tough town. The greatest hitter that ever lived [Ted Williams], when he walked away from the Red Sox, there was a perception of him created by the beat writers in Boston that wasn’t accurate.’’

Accurate or not, it appeared that Duquette’s major league days might be over - that he wouldn’t find a way back into baseball. It appeared he would be left to his sports academy and summer league.

That is, until he convinced the Orioles and Peter Angelos to take him on.

Lines of communication

It has been 10 years, but the scars remain. For those who were a part of the Duquette era in Boston, there are feelings that still hurt.

“Time can help somebody adjust, maybe, if they want to, [adjust] their personalities or their people skills or how they interact with others,’’ said Dick Bresciani, the Sox’ team historian, who worked in public relations during the Duquette regime. “Maybe Dan learned a lot in the last 10 years about that kind of situation.

“I think many times when you’re young, you’re successful, you might not tend to have the patience or not have the communicative skills with others around you. I think that was something that hurt Dan when he was with the Red Sox.’’

Perhaps Duquette has been humbled in his time away from the game. Perhaps he has matured during the past 10 years, realized his errors. He certainly seemed conscious of them in his first days with the Orioles, committed to a more open, honest, and friendly relationship with those around him.

“There’s always things,’’ he said. “I’m confident I made a number of mistakes. I’m also aware of them. So in an effort to get better and more precise, I’m going to work on those things and proceed, do what I do more carefully.

“In Boston I was focused on one thing at the expense of some others that I probably should have paid more attention to. But I got another chance.’’

Duquette, though, declined to elaborate on his mistakes. But it’s well known he didn’t communicate well. That led to issues with manager Kevin Kennedy, to the firing of manager Jimy Williams, to hard feelings with players that led to departures.

He was abrasive and smug.

“I just think you learn,’’ Kennedy said. “I think he’s matured. There were times at the end when he wasn’t returning phone calls, he had other things going on in Boston. I know around baseball sometimes it didn’t sit well with other GMs that the assistant was calling and not Dan.’’

Still, Duquette’s teams won. The Red Sox had a .544 winning percentage during his time in Boston, which should have earned him other opportunities. He built the organization, built the farm system, built a team that eventually won a title.

And yet, it wasn’t his. He didn’t get to stick around long enough.

His personality - and, perhaps, some arrogance - got in the way. And that might have been a factor in his inability to find a job in the major leagues in the last decade, even as he made significant efforts to do so.

But, now, he has another chance to build a winning club.

“I’m refreshed,’’ Duquette said, “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to get going adding players to help us beat the Red Sox.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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