Free-agent relief pitcher Joe Price dispatched his medical records to the Baltimore Orioles front office yesterday, but it remains uncertain whether his revised medical status will improve his chances of returning to the club in 1991.
Price, who was described as "a walking time bomb after his lower back was evaluated by the Orioles medical staff, recently sought a second opinion on the back injury that forced him onto the disabled list last July. The written report on that examination, prepared by San Francisco 49ers orthopedists Mark Sontag and Arthur White, describe a "mild" risk of back and leg pain common to many veteran athletes.
"I received it today," general manager Roland Hemond said yesterday, "but I haven't had a chance to bring it to the attention of our medical staff. We respect that people might want a second or third opinion, and we're happy for Joe that it's not as severe as we were concerned it was."
But there was nothing to indicate that the Orioles are going to offer Price a contract. The club rejected a $400,000 option to renew him in October, though the Orioles asked agent Joe Bick at the time to consider a revised contract with a lower base salary.
"The door is still open if they want it to be," Price said. "I said I wanted to continue playing there, and I meant that."
Price said he was interested in hearing the club's reaction to the new report, since his back injury was used as the major justification for the decision to let him go.
"We'll take a look at it," Hemond said, "but I don't know what decision will be made."
Hemond said the decision was based upon medical, monetary and roster considerations. The team's 40-man roster has three open spaces, but they are expected to be filled by next week.
Price had the independent examination performed so that he would have something to back up his claim that the back injury would not seriously impair his ability to pitch. There was concern at the time of his release that other clubs would be reluctant to consider signing him because of the doubts raised by the Orioles.
"Dr. Sontag said he could probably examine the 10 pitchers on the pitching staff and find four or five with conditions like mine," Price said. "He said there are many players of my age and experience that would be at the same risk."
The financial risk to the Orioles would be mild, no matter what. The $400,000 Price would have gotten under the terms of the contract option is far less than the average left-handed reliever would figure to receive in the free-agent market.