Angels General Manager History: Dan O’Brien

Constructing an MLB roster remains and will always be one of the hardest jobs in all of sports.

As general manager of a baseball team, there are countless tasks to handle, which look at both the short-term and the long-term. There’s putting together a 26-man roster via player development, the draft, free-agent signings, and trades. There’s finding the balance between winning now and thinking about the long-term prognosis in every single move. There’s trying to project how well a pitcher will perform, both statistically and on the health side. Perhaps most difficult is trying to put together a farm system and evaluating what a guy might in 3-4 years. Put simply, constructing a baseball roster has its major difficulties.

That leads me here today to continue my series evaluating every general manager in Angels franchise history. Evaluating any general manager needs context, given that putting together a roster in the 1960s-1970s (prior to free agency) is way different than it is in the year 2020. My goal is to evaluate every general manager based on all of the given information we have about them and how much success the team had while he was there.

With this in mind, let’s get onto the sixth general manager in Angels franchise history.

PART 1: Fred Haney

PART 2: Dick Walsh

PART 3: Harry Dalton

PART 4: Buzzie Bavasi

PART 5: Mike Port

Dan O’Brien (May 1, 1991 – Sept. 17, 1993)

Photo by AP News

O’Brien was one of Mike Port’s top aides in the front office following stints as GM of the Texas Rangers (1973-1978) and Seattle Mariners (1981-1983). In his tenure in Texas, O’Brien did a great job of turning around a team that won just 54 games in 1972 and 57 games in his first year as GM in ’73. Rather surprisingly, O’Brien was let go after the Rangers won a combined 181 games in his last two seasons in Texas. He had far less luck in his Seattle tenure, topping at out 76 wins in ’82. O’Brien made his way to Anaheim prior to the 1990 season, carving out a role as a top front office member before taking over the GM reins shortly into the ’91 season.

Resume of mediocrity

With all due respect to O’Brien, his track record in his three seasons in Anaheim was well below-average. After taking over as GM partway in ’91, the Angels finished with a 71-71 record, the best winning percentage the Angels would have in O’Briens three seasons. One of the most notable aspects of O’Brien’s resume was the managerial carousel, partially due to what happened on the field but also due to an off-the-field incident. Late in the ’91 season, O’Brien fired then-manager Doug Rader and replaced him with former Angels Buck Rodgers. In May of 1992, Rodgers and the Angels were involved in a bus crash that severely injured the Angels manager and several other members of the team. Luckily, nobody died but Rodgers wouldn’t manage again until August due to broken bones in his body. Third base coach John Wathan managed in Rodgers’ absence. The club struggled for most of 1992-1993, winning a combined 143 games in that span.

The most notable and controversial trade made under O’Brien sent the ever-popular and productive Jim Abbott to the Yankees for a group of prospects including J.T. Snow. Abbott produced a bulk of his value in his time in Anaheim and would only go on to produce 7.5 WAR following his departure from Anaheim. While Snow wasn’t very good in Anaheim (minus 1.3 WAR in four seasons), the trade didn’t ultimately end up being that significant in the long run. That caveat is surprising given the initial reaction the Angels trading away someone of Abbott’s caliber.

O’Brien may have the strangest resume of any GM in franchise history. He came on board partway through the 1991 season and was replaced at the end of the 1993 season by future Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog. Herzog, however, lasted a mere four months on the job before he was replaced by Bill Bavasi in January of 1994. O’Brien was thrown into the GM role partway through his first season and was eventually replaced by a GM who never held the title during an actual MLB game with the Angels.

What O’Brien did well

Unfortunately for O’Brien, his resume doesn’t feature many eye-popping accomplishments. The results on the field, via acquisitions, and through the draft didn’t produce many results. O’Brien does deserve credit for his handling of the major bus crash during the 1992 season, however. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the position to not just care for and ensure the health of everyone involved in that crash. To then turn around and reconstruct the coaching staff to accommodate for Buck Rodgers’ injury makes it even more difficult. While O’Brien didn’t produce meaningful results, he did handle a rather terrifying situation pretty well.

What O’Brien didn’t do well

As alluded to above, O’Brien just didn’t do much in his time in Anaheim. The club was well below .500 in three seasons and didn’t make any meaningful additions for the long-term prognosis of the organization. O’Brien’s most meaningful addition through the draft was Orlando Palmeiro, who played a bench role for the 2002 title team.

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2002heaven
Super Member
4 years ago

Only possible other GM that’s possibly worse than Billy Eppler ( yes he doesn’t like pitchers……BTW remember the rumor about the Angels drafting a guy that they don’t wanna sign on purpose!! )

John Henry Weitzel
Editor
Super Member
4 years ago

That’s a brief career. Very “hi bye”.

Eric_in_Portland
Legend
4 years ago

there being no links today (so far) and my own need to discuss this, the Angels have signed Calabrese, Blakely, and Seminaris. They went over slot on Blakely and, according to Halos Hangout…

Interestingly enough, that leaves the Angels with just $4,613,100 with which to sign Reid Detmers. As the 10th overall pick, Detmers slot has a value of $4,739,900. That means Detmers will need to agree to a below slot deal for the Angels to fit him into their draft pool. For a pitcher that was always slated to go in the top 10 and is considered a fast track possibility, that is a risky move for the team.

wouldn’t that be a typical Arte move? I mean, somehow losing Detmars? Being prepared to offer Blakely $900k and not minding too much if Detmars turns down his below slot offer?

H.T. Ennis
Admin
Super Member
4 years ago

I highly doubt Detmers turns it down, but if he does, that would mean we punted!!

Eric_in_Portland
Legend
4 years ago
Reply to  H.T. Ennis

I would think they talked to him first to let him know and got assurances that it’d be ok. I just am prone to freak out about management.

Charles Sutton
Editor
Super Member
4 years ago

They got Seminaris for way below slot. Like $200,000 below. Interesting that you bring up Arte. He’s the featured image on tomorrow’s links, although I was thinking of the so-called labor negotiations when I picked that photo.

Eric_in_Portland
Legend
4 years ago
Reply to  Charles Sutton

and Blakely almost $400k over slot.

Speaking of signing players, teams can sign undrafted players now. 24 teams have done so. The Red Sux have signed 10. Six teams have not signed any. The Angels are one of those six. I wonder if the recent “furloughing” of scouts and analytical staff people will make it confusing for Billy. Who does he sign? Does he sign anyone at all?

max
Trusted Member
max
4 years ago

Unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me one damn bit that Arte hasn’t signed one undrafted free agent.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
4 years ago

If an area scout had made contact with your son, said the Angels were interested but wouldn’t likely draft him. Then that scout got fired one payday before the draft, what do you think that scout would advise? Signing with the Angels?

2002heaven
Super Member
4 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Joiner

I’m also a avid UCLA sports fan……Arte and Billy aren’t running the Bruins athletic department too, are they? These two seem pretty good at running a solid organization into the ground. Like giving a brand new Mercedes Benz to a teenage juvenile delinquent and expecting him to take good care of it.

2002heaven
Super Member
4 years ago

If their on work release maybe? Or maybe as volunteers like a community college bookstore employee. ( usually a student. )

Designerguy
Super Member
4 years ago

The bleak period for the Angels when the front office didn’t know if they wanted to grow by trade or via the farm system. Plus, Jackie Autry wore her bankers hat and kept the purse strings tight. The most notable free agent signings of the time was Hubie Brooks, Von Hayes, and Gary Gaetti, who was booed practically every time he stepped to the plate.

O’Brien also had a hand in blockbuster trades such as up and coming Dante Bichette for washed up Dave Parker.

Yep, it was that bad.

RexFregosi
Super Member
4 years ago
Reply to  Designerguy

good summaries – my recollection was the front office was a mess ((actually a frickin’ fiasco of the first order) and i blame Jackie. Here’s something i found – it confirmed what i remembered – Herzog was hired about the same time and it was really confusing

As the link points out, it sent a shudder through me to hear La Russa was hired because of memories of the prior mess

https://retrosimba.com/2014/05/21/how-tony-la-russa-can-learn-from-whitey-herzog-mistakes/

Job confusion

In September 1991, Herzog was named senior vice president and director of player personnel of the Angels.

Herzog said he believed he was overseeing the entire Angels baseball operation.

Instead, he found himself in a power struggle.

Dan O’Brien was the Angels’ senior vice president for baseball operations when Herzog was hired.

Herzog thought O’Brien primarily would be his assistant, handling paperwork.

In his book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said, “I made sure I worked out every detail in advance … I’d be in complete charge of baseball operations: the minor-league system, the hiring and firing of coaches and scouts, the ballclub’s trades and drafts.”

O’Brien thought Herzog primarily would be evaluating players, leaving O’Brien to direct most of the baseball operations, including approval of trades and free-agent signings.

Herzog won the battle _ O’Brien eventually was fired _ but lost the war, resigning before the Angels could become contenders.

Work from home

His friends, Angels owners Gene and Jackie Autry, hired Herzog with the goal of bringing the franchise its first American League pennant and World Series title.

Herzog was given an apartment in Anaheim, but kept his residence in the St. Louis area and did most of his work from that home. He didn’t have an office at the Angels ballpark.

“Whitey doesn’t want to be an office person and he doesn’t have to be,” Angels president Richard Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “My exact words to him were, ‘If I see you in Anaheim in the office, you’re not doing your job.’ He has to be on the road a lot. I’m going to be relying on him constantly to evaluate our young players, and I don’t want him reading scouting reports. I want him evaluating what he saw.”

O’Brien did have an office at the Angels ballpark.

In a March 1992 interview, six months after Herzog was hired, O’Brien told the Los Angeles Times, “You can’t do things in this business in 1992 as you did in 1990 because it’s in a constant state of change. Contracts, more than anything else, keep getting in the way. The talent is probably now one of the easier things to analyze.”

In 1992, Herzog’s first full season with the team, the Angels finished 72-90 and ranked last in the American League in hitting and runs scored.

The next year wasn’t much better. The 1993 Angels finished 71-91. Herzog and O’Brien remained at odds. Bob Nightengale of the Los Angeles Times described the working relationship of the two senior vice presidents as “deteriorated beyond repair.”

O’Brien ouster

In mid-September 1993, Brown convinced the Autrys to fire O’Brien. Bill Bavasi, the Angels’ farm director, was promoted to general manager, reporting to Herzog. Bavasi was to handle administrative duties. Herzog was given the title of vice president in charge of baseball operations and was allowed to continue to work primarily from his suburban St. Louis home.

Wrote Nightengale, “The Herzog-O’Brien conflict was set in motion by the Angels two years ago when they appointed Herzog as vice president in charge of player personnel. Herzog was told that he would be in charge of all baseball operations, but O’Brien carried the title of vice president in charge of baseball operations and never relented in his duties, creating the impression within baseball that no one was in charge.”

Said Angels manager Buck Rodgers: “It was doomed from Day 1 … They are two good baseball men, but it’s hard to succeed when you don’t have one guy in control. You have to have a No. 1 guy.”

(A year later, in a November 1994 interview with Nightengale, O’Brien said he was surprised by his firing. “The thing that I find funny is that people kept saying that Whitey and I never got along,” O’Brien said. “That wasn’t true. I mean, Whitey was never around. He did things his way and I did things my way. All I know is that I was there every day in the office.”)

In his book, Herzog said, “They never told (O’Brien) what my duties were until I’d arrived. He got protective of his job, cut me out of meetings and fought my authority for two years.”

Designerguy
Super Member
4 years ago
Reply to  RexFregosi

One of the best summaries I read of the Herzog hiring was, “Jackie Autry spent $1M to hire Herzog, and 25 cents for the string to tie his hands behind his back.”

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
4 years ago
Reply to  Designerguy

I remember being excited when Gaetti was brought on board. We had family friends from Minnesota and I’d cheered for the Twins with them during the World Series, so I knew just a little about him.

He was right in line with an Angels free agent acquisition in recent years. Right down the drain.

steelgolf
Super Member
4 years ago

Wow, I had completely forgot about Dan O’Brien. Those were the years you could show up to the stadium and just move right down to a seat in the field level. Nice article Brent.

2002heaven
Super Member
4 years ago
Reply to  steelgolf

You could’ve showed up naked during this time and got away with it!
Who would’ve known?