Orioles' lack of depth, not injuries, is really what's hurting the team

BASEBALL

June 09, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

There has been a lot of talk about the string of injuries that helped send the Baltimore Orioles to the bottom of the American League East standings. But injuries only cripple a team that doesn't have enough organizational depth to overcome them.

Case in point -- the Oakland Athletics, who have been hampered by injuries throughout the 1991 season and remain at the top of the standings in one of baseball's most competitive divisions.

The A's just lost shortstop Walt Weiss to a serious ankle injury, probably for the remainder of the season. They have played all year without everyday third baseman Carney Lansford, who was injured in a snowmobile accident during the off-season.

Oakland also lost reliever Joe Klink last week, bringing to eight the number of pitchers who have spent time on the disabled list this year. Of the 11 pitchers who opened the season on the regular-season roster, only Mike Moore, Dennis Eckersley and Bob Welch have gotten into June without getting hurt.

Under the circumstances, the A's cannot be expected to stay on top of the AL West for long, or can they?

Two years ago, they lost Jose Canseco for half the season, Eckersley for six weeks and a number of other star-quality players for shorter periods, but still won the World Series without breaking a sweat. That's because the club had outstanding talent and excellent depth.

The Orioles don't. Not many teams do.

"When somebody goes down, there's somebody here to try and pick him up," said utility infielder Mike Gallego, who has averaged 134 games the past three years. "It's that attitude that produces a winning combination. Other teams may say they have it, and they might, but we're the team that has shown it for three years."

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Commissioner Fay Vincent must have made the right decision on the expansion fee distribution, because everyone seems to be unhappy with it.

The AL owners had hoped to get half of the $190 million that will be paid for the two new NL franchises, but must settle for just 22 percent ($42 million). If the issue had been decided on precedent, as the NL owners had hoped it would, the AL wouldn't have gotten anything.

Vincent doesn't figure to go down as a latter-day King Solomon, but there is a moral to this story: It sure is fun watching rich people fight over large sums of money.

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Here's an anniversary Cal Ripken isn't likely to celebrate. One year ago this Wednesday, his batting average dropped to .209, its lowest point since the second game of the 1990 season.

Remember how the talk-show types were calling for an end to his ironman streak? Remember all that talk about how much a day off here and there would help improve his offensive production?

Ripken has played 155 consecutive games since then and is batting .306 with 26 home runs and 91 RBI. Of course, the batting average is heavily weighted toward the first two months of this season, but his run production has been fairly consistent throughout.

Bonus stat: Including exhibition play this year, Ripken has 102 hits in just 75 games.

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Former New York Yankees outfielders Dave Winfield and Luis Polonia each have completed the equivalent of one full season with the California Angels, and the early return on the two trades that sent them west reflects positively on fired general manager Mike Port.

Winfield, who was supposed to be washed up after a serious back injury, is batting .277 in 158 games and has 30 doubles, 29 home runs and 112 RBI. Polonia is batting .332 with 38 stolen bases.

The Angels got Winfield for pitcher Mike Witt, who was 5-6 last year and has spent all but a couple of days this year on the disabled list. They got Polonia for Claudell Washington, who is out of baseball.

"The Yankees must be the dumbest team in baseball," Polonia said. "They don't know what they have until they lose it."

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Winfield, incidentally, moved into 22nd place on the all-time RBI list recently, passing Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey over a 10-day period.

"You know what's funny," Winfield said. "When I came over to this team, most guys didn't know I had played this long or done this much. I think it's because because New York suppressed a XTC lot of that.

"The man there [George Steinbrenner] didn't want a lot of talk about it. I'd reach some significant personal milestone, and they wouldn't even put it on the stadium scoreboard."

Gloating is good dept.: Just a reminder that a certain Sun baseball writer predicted that Angels left-hander Chuck Finley and Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Ramon Martinez would win the Cy Young awards for their respective leagues.

Finley and Martinez each are 9-2 and rank among the most overpowering pitchers in baseball. No sense waiting until the last minute to say I told you so.

But there's another reason for getting the gloating in early. Both pitchers could be candidates for an early burnout. Finley, in particular, has been worked extremely hard through the first two months, throwing a minimum of 126 pitches in each of his past six starts.

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