NL staff covered with Bird feathers

July 09, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

TORONTO TLB — TORONTO -- It seems inconceivable that a team with the worst earned run average (4.91) in the American League could have three former members of its pitching staff on the National League All-Star team.

But such is life for the Baltimore Orioles, who sent Dennis Martinez, Mike Morgan and Pete Harnisch to the other league. Those three would look good in anybody's starting rotation today, yet there were enough valid reasons to justify the decisions to let them go.

Martinez was at a point in his career where he needed a fresh start; Morgan's untapped potential was risked for an everyday player (Mike Devereaux); and Harnisch was part of the package (along with Curt Schilling and Steve Finley) sacrificed to obtain Glenn Davis.

It serves no purpose to look back, but it's safe to assume that had Martinez, Morgan and Harnisch been performing at their current levels of excellence they would not have left the Orioles. At least not under the same circumstances.

All three have taken their careers to a higher level, including tonight's 62nd All-Star Game (8:30, Channel 11), and in each case persistence has paid a rich dividend. Of the three, Morgan undoubtedly is the most surprised to be here. He was a last-minute replacement for injured teammate Ramon Martinez and did not even arrive in time for yesterday's workout.

Harnisch is easily the most impressionable. The burly righthander does not try to hide his delight at merely being included in this galaxy of stars. "It's exciting just to be here," he said. "Walking over [to the SkyDome] from the hotel you could feel the atmosphere.

"It hasn't even hit me that I'm here," said Harnisch yesterday. "It probably won't until tomorrow. It's a thrill just being around players who have been the best in the game for the last four or five years."

Morgan and Harnisch are All-Stars for the first time, so their anticipated excitement is easily understandable. But you'd have to walk in the shoes of Dennis Martinez to understand what this is all about.

There won't be a player on the field tonight who will experience the emotional high of Martinez, who is scheduled to be the second pitcher used by NL manager Lou Piniella. This will be his second straight All-Star appearance (he pitched a scoreless inning last year).

In his home country of Nicaragua, where he has been a national hero since becoming the first player from that country to reach the big leagues 15 years ago, normal activity will stop for this game. "I have no way to put it," Martinez said yesterday, when asked what his All-Star selection meant to him.

"My people never gave up on me when others thought I was through," he said. "I always had their moral support, their prayers. They always watch me on the [TV] satellite and this means as much to them as it does to me."

And, make no mistake about it, participation in an All-Star Game is more than just an honor for Martinez. It is his soapbox, it is a torch he can carry as a signal to others that adversity can be overcome.

fTC "I'll tell you," said Martinez, "being an alcoholic like I am, it gives me a chance to show people like me what you can overcome. Sometimes they give up.

"I want to tell them, show them, you can give yourself hope. You can do things. I don't want them to lose hope, to give up on themselves."

It was Martinez's battle with the wayward ways of alcohol that eventually led him out of Baltimore, and to a new start with the Montreal Expos. He has proven that his competitive edge was not lost during his rehabilitation, merely redefined.

The old Dennis Martinez might not have survived the slight in 1989, when he didn't make the All-Star team with a 9-2 record and a 2.90 earned run average. "I was disappointed then," Martinez said yesterday, "but I can't express the feeling I had last year and this year.

"Last year I didn't expect to make it because I had only a 6-record. They told me I was picked because of last year and 1989.

"This year I wanted to make it on my own, not because they hato pick me. I wanted my numbers to speak for me."

With a 10-5 record and a 2.10 ERA, Martinez can let his numberspeak volumes. Many thought he was the natural choice to start against an American League lineup that features mostly righthanded hitters, but he was passed over in favor of Atlanta lefthander Tom Glavine (11-4, 1.98).

"I'll be honest with you," said Martinez. "I wish it was me. It woulbe a great thing for the city of Montreal and also for my people in Nicaragua.

"But," said the smiling Martinez, whose outgoing personality has made him one of the most popular players in the game, "I don't expect anything. Glavine deserves to start too, and I'm just happy to be able to enjoy this with my family."

There are no real secrets to the success story Martinez has written during the last five years. "I think a lot of it is maturity," he said. "I've had a lot of determination and I've worked hard."

It is a message he strives to send at every opportunity to "his people" -- those at home in Nicaragua, and those who have experienced similar tribulations in their lives. It is a story that never gets too old.

Martinez would look good in an Oriole uniform these days, but that is immaterial. Seven years ago, when he hit rock bottom, a lot of people questioned whether he'd even be wearing a baseball uniform in 1991.

If making an All-Star team is a reward for diligence and personal integrity as much as it is for physical ability and achievement, then Dennis Martinez has qualified on all four counts.

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