Three years ago, any team in baseball, including his hometown team, could have gotten Mike Bielecki from the Pittsburgh Pirates for little more than the price of a phone call. Bielecki is from the Dundalk-Middle River area of Baltimore County, as is Dave Johnson, who left the Pittsburgh organization a year later and ended up with the Orioles, coming by way of Houston.
The Chicago Cubs paid the modest price for Bielecki and got a big year out of the righthander while winning the National League East in 1989. That was the same year Johnson started perhaps the most dramatic game of a most dramatic year for the Orioles, on the next-to-last day of the season.
Last year Bielecki floundered and ended up in the Cubs' rotation by default at the beginning of this season. After pitching eight scoreless innings a week ago, he was demoted to the bullpen to make room for Rick Sutcliffe, who was coming off a one-year rehabilitation program. His reaction? "Rick is one of my best friends on this team, I hope he does well," said Bielecki. Is this guy for real? Or hasn't he been taught how to say "pitch me, or pay off all my incentive clauses?"
Banished to the bullpen, Bielecki helped blow a 12-7 lead in his first relief appearance. Once again it looked like he might be had for the price of a phone call. Then Danny Jackson got hurt and, instead of being trade bait, Bielecki got another start. He pitched seven shutout innings. His record is 3-1.
Do you get the idea that Bielecki and Johnson, the perennial underdog on the Orioles' staff, have more in common than their old neighborhood? It isn't their salary, however -- Bielecki makes about $500,000 more, thanks to his big year in 1989. But it seems like these two guys should be destined to play on the same big-league team before they hang it up.
* SAGA OF NICK THE QUICK: Nick Leyva got a two-year contract to continue managing the Phillies last winter, then was fired 13 games into the season. Sound familiar? No, you're wrong. Cal Ripken Sr. only had a one-year contract when he was fired after six games in 1988. But then, Leyva probably had twice as much playing talent.
One thing the two had in common, however, was a severe lack of home-grown talent. Ripken was operating with band aids while the Orioles were waiting for the young talent that arrived a year later.
The Phillies' roster is almost devoid of players trained by the organization. The best of the lot is Darren Daulton, as you can tell by his $6.7 million, three-year contract. And that should tell you something.
* WHATEVER HAPPENED TO: Former Orioles pitcher Tom Phoebus? Glad you asked. He'll be at Memorial Stadium tomorrow night, the 23rd anniversary of his no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox. This will be the first of several special events the Orioles are celebrating during their final year at Memorial Stadium. Phoebus, a graduate of Mount St. Joe High School who is now teaching in Port St. Lucie, Fla., also is scheduled to make an appearance tomorrow at the Babe Ruth Museum.
Give the home team an A for these promotions. And the crack PR department could score bonus points for this one if they could hastily arrange for an appearance by the guy who caught the no-hitter by Phoebus. Remember? It was Curt Blefary, who when last heard from was a law enforcement officer in nearby New Jersey.
* ISN'T HE FROM THE ICE AGE? Credit Carlton Fisk with the best early-season baseball line. "I don't think I should have to catch when the temperature is below my age," said the 43-year-old.
The man is absolutely baseball's best marvel this side of Nolan Ryan. His body appears to fit his nickname (Pudge) more than any other time in his career. He still runs with a strut. He still catches in slow motion. And he still hits.
The last sentence says it all.
* TRASH THIS RUMOR: Frank Robinson may or may not eventually have the last say on when he stops managing the Orioles, but don't let anybody kid you into thinking he wants to leave the dugout anytime soon.
There are two things Robinson wants to do before moving into a front-office position. He would like a championship to be the asterisk on his managerial record, and he wants to be calling the shots when the Orioles open their new park next year.
If he moves upstairs before either, or both, take place, he will go kicking and screaming -- or both.
* IMPERTINENT QUESTIONS: Does Bill Doran qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize for coordinating a truce between teammate Rob Dibble and ex-teammate Eric Yelding? And could Doran have manipulated the meeting between the two if he was still playing in Houston, instead of Cincinnati?
How much would Darryl Strawberry have been worth if his career average in Dodger Stadium was higher than .225? Or if his home run ratio wasn't worse there than in any other National League park?
And, while on the subject, if the ex-Mets slugger does have TC monster year how much will Eddie Murray, the best protector The Straw Man has ever had, be able to get in his last contract?
Did the Yankees set some kind of record by using 13 different lineups in their first 13 games?
Don't you feel better knowing the Dodgers, who lost their first five at Dodger Stadium, won't go winless before the home celebrities?
How many people are asking: "Is that the Doug Sisk pitching for the Atlanta Braves?" And how many really know that, yes, it is?
Will Bob Milacki stay in Hagerstown long enough to qualify for the Eastern League's earned run average championship? Or will he be in Baltimore before another week has passed?
Hasn't Roger "The Dodger" Clemens set a record for most wins (four) by a pitcher while appealing a suspension?