Mickey closes in style

October 04, 1990|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Evening Sun Staff

That was some explanation point Mickey Tettleton left the Orioles, a long, tall one arching into the rightfield bleachers. His game-winning homer last night provided not just a dramatic end to the season, but a fitting opening to what likely will be one of the most scrutinized offseasons in club history.

Tettleton is the first major issue confronting the Orioles as they begin their recovery from a year in which they dropped to fifth place, 11 1/2 games behind division champion Boston. The switch-hitting catcher becomes eligible for free agency the day after the World Series.

Last night, all he did was deliver the final blow to the Toronto Blue Jays, hitting his 15th homer off reliever Tom Henke with two outs in the ninth to give the Orioles a 3-2 comeback victory at Memorial Stadium.

The Blue Jays learned of their elimination from the Diamond Vision scoreboard as they took the field at the start of the inning. The replay of Boston rightfielder Tom Brunansky's game-ending catch pulled the plug on their life-support system. From there it was just a matter of when the heart stopped beating.

Tettleton took care of that, and now the Orioles turn to 1991. The club announced the rehirings of manager Frank Robinson and his coaches before last night's game. The next set of issues will be far more difficult, for they involve the players who finished with 11 fewer wins than a year ago.

To improve on its 76-85 record, Robinson said the team needs changes that are "minor, but very important . . . take it in for a tuneup, not a complete overhaul." His wish list includes a dependable RBI man, a veteran starter and a hard-throwing lefthanded reliever.

Tettleton, of course, is a matter unto himself.

"I just think he had a bad year, had a lot on his mind," Orioles first baseman Randy Milligan said. "You know what his capabilities are. And you're not going to find many guys who can do what he can do."

"I'd like to see him back," reliever Gregg Olson added. "I don't think what he did last year was a fluke."

But will the Orioles meet his price?

Darren Daulton, the other front-line catcher eligible for free agency, reportedly has received a three-year, $6.6 million offer from Philadelphia.

Daulton, 28, batted .268 this season with 12 homers and 57 RBIs.

Tettleton, 30, batted .223 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs.

Though the statistics are comparable, Tettleton's value might actually be higher because he is a switch-hitter (Daulton bats left), and because he hit 26 homers in 1989 (Daulton hit eight).

Of course, Tettleton also finished with a club-record 160 strikeouts, and is considered only an average catcher. But he was second in the AL to Mark McGwire with 106 walks, and that enabled him to finish with a .375 on-base percentage, second on the club to Milligan's .408.

Asked to assess his season, Tettleton said, "I don't know. I'm going to have to think about it on the drive home. I've got four days to get to [Scottsdale] Arizona. There will be plenty of time to think about it. But it's been frustrating, no doubt about it."

His negotiations with the Orioles broke down in July over length of contract, but they are expected to resume shortly. Tettleton spoke with team president Larry Lucchino in the clubhouse after last night's game. He said it was small talk.

Robinson has said the Orioles will try to re-sign Tettleton, who is expected to file for free agency simply as a matter of procedure. He must do so in the 15-day declaration period after the World Series, and his agent, Tony Attanasio, has said he would be "foolish" not to.

Under the most likely scenario, the club will make Tettleton another offer in the coming weeks, probably two years with a club option for a third. Tettleton almost certainly will seek three years guaranteed, and the free-agent market will determine whether he can get it.

One factor the Orioles might take into account when assessing Tettleton's value is the impact his uncertain contract status had on his play. Tettleton refused to cite the distraction as an excuse while earning $750,000 this season. Orioles hitting instructor Tom McCraw wasn't so sure.

"That's a lot of pressure," McCraw said, "when you think about how your numbers can determine how high you go, anywhere from $1 million to $3 million. I don't think it had an effect, I know it did. That would affect any man."

In any case, the loss of Tettleton would leave the Orioles with two righthanded-hitting catchers, veteran Bob Melvin and rookie Chris Hoiles, while the signing of Tettleton would leave Melvin in a position to be traded.

Hoiles, 25, is a separate concern, for he is recovering from an injury to his throwing shoulder that still might require surgery. He has a .181 average in 72 major-league at-bats, but is coming off an excellent season at Rochester in which he batted .348 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs.

Melvin, who turns 29 on Oct. 28, is regarded as the best defensive catcher, and he batted .243 this season with five homers and 37 RBIs. Orioles pitchers in the past questioned Tettleton's game-calling ability, but one starter said last night he was easier to work with in the second half.

So, will Tettleton be back?

"I guess now I'll give it some serious thought," he said. "I like it in Baltimore. I'd like to stay in Baltimore. I'll talk about it with my agent in the next couple of days, think about it a little more."

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