Hey, Otter, with no relief in sight, are you still on this team?

Ken Rosenthal

May 17, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

To Gregg Olson

c/o Baltimore Orioles

Last Place, AL East

Dear Otter:

You still on this team?

Seems like we never see you anymore. An inning here, an inning there, and then you disappear. It's like manager Frank Robinson said, "He's been sitting out there so much, I thought he had replaced the bullpen coach."

No offense, No. 30: This isn't your fault. The only way you can earn a save is if the Orioles enter the late innings with a lead. Just a hunch, but it could happen again before the end of the millennium.

Last night the ballclub was down a touchdown after two innings, 11-5 after nine. Otter, you could have gone home and played your beloved Nintendo. You threw your weekly mopup inning the previous night.

Five save chances in 31 games. You say it yourself: "I'm completely useless on this team." Is it too late to become a starter? A second baseman? A third baseman? A catcher?

Five save chances. Maybe it's an ownership plot. You'll earn your $505,000 base salary this season, and that's it. The Orioles don't pay incentive clauses out of the goodness of their hearts.

Let's look at that contract:

All-Star selection ($25,000): The game is in Toronto, scene of your famous wild pitch. Ah, you didn't want to go anyway.

Cy Young Award ($75,000): This one's easy to rationalize, with that Clemens guy up in Boston.

Playoff or World Series MVP ($50,000): A joke, right?

Rolaids relief competition ($75,000 for first, $40,000 for second, $30,000 for third, $20,000 for fourth): Stupid agent. He forgot 10th, 11th and 12th.

Poor Otter.

The season is nearly one-fifth complete, and you trail former teammate Curt Schilling 5-4 in saves. Schilling is also 0-3 with a 4.82 ERA, but at least he's getting chances. You went 15 days without one in April.

Hey, look at the bright side. For one reason or another, the three AL save leaders from last season -- Bobby Thigpen (57) Dennis Eckersley (48) and Doug Jones (43) -- aren't faring much better.

Thiggy? He set the major-league save record in 1990, and as of April 28 he was on pace to do it again. That, however, is the date of his last save. He's stuck on six. The White Sox have lost 10 of 14.

The Eck? His ERA last season was 0.61. This year it's 4.11. He's 9-for-11 in save opportunities, but that's as many blown chances as he had in 1990. He also has allowed four homers -- two more than all of last year.

Mr. Jones? He's 0-3 with a 10.32 ERA and four blown saves. Of course, he's also converted five opportunities, which, sorry to say Otter, still puts him one up on you.

Ah, the wacky life of a closer.

Last year Otter, you earned five saves in six days. This year you have four in six weeks. Go figure: On those rare occasions the Orioles win, it's usually by three or more runs. Hence, no save.

"I don't think he's going crazy," Robinson says. "But he misses the competition, misses going out there, misses the battles. He relishes that. That's what the position is all about, being out in the thick of things."

It finally happened Sunday, and all hell broke loose in Seattle, but no sense blaming yourself, Otter. Few pitchers are sharp after pitching only twice in 10 days.

The Orioles had a 4-3 lead in the eighth and said, "Please."

Good manners for a bad team.

The loss dropped you to 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Another three games passed with nary a chance for a save. The memory lingers. Thanks to your teammates, it won't disappear.

"I've blown saves before, and I can deal with that," you say. "But the fact that there have been so few times I've been able to contribute, then to blow it and get the loss, it just destroyed me for a day.

"I had a five-hour flight to deal with it. But that made it all the worse. I couldn't get away from my teammates. I couldn't just go into a corner. There's no place to hide on a plane."

True, but there's always the bullpen. Must be a fun spot with the team nine games out. Otter, if you're thinking about writing the Great American Novel -- or just a Nintendo game program -- now is the time to start.

Oh, you're not "completely useless." You're still only 24. You're a sure thing 85 percent of the time. And as you said, "It's not over. It can still turn into a good year."

Then again, it can always get worse. Robinson's new plan is to work you at least every fourth day, regardless of the situation. He's worried about you, Otter. We all are.

You still on this team?

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