It's about time Orioles faced reality

Ken Rosenthal

July 31, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

The Orioles. Grasping reality. What a concept.

The Grand Purge was only about a year late, but all will be forgiven if the Orioles officially embrace the Terminator idea, blowing away useless players whenever necessary.

Make no mistake: Those were three smart bombs that landed on the pitching staff yesterday, and Jeff Ballard, Jeff Robinson and Paul Kilgus should be thankful they didn't come sooner.

Barring September callups, it was the Orioles' biggest internal roster shakeup since April 1988, when they tried the same three up, three down procedure after their record fell to 0-18.

Things aren't as desperate now, but the Grand Purge carries the same implicit admission of guilt. All teams make mistakes. The shrewd ones correct them and press forward.

The Orioles, of course, have been anything but shrewd since coming within two games of the division title in 1989. Yesterday marks a step forward, but only if it's the start of a trend.

It might be. The purge appears to be the handiwork of club president Larry Lucchino, who is far less tolerant of ineptitude than his eternally optimistic general manager, Roland Hemond.

Lucchino wouldn't admit urging Hemond to action, but from Seattle he conceded, "These are difficult times. You need to take some bolder steps in difficult times."

Pardon Lucchino and Co. for getting fed up after the club got swept three straight at home by Oakland this weekend in front of more than 140,000 fans.

The season to remember at Memorial Stadium is a cruel joke. Firing the manager didn't help. Firing the coaches might not either. But a few new players -- ah, now that's a start.

No. 1 draft pick Mike Mussina is almost certain to be an improvement over Ballard and Robinson in the rotation. Lefty Jim Poole can't be much worse than Kilgus in the 'pen, and Stacy Jones was Gregg Olson's college roommate, so what the hell?

"We're not just venting our spleen," Lucchino warned. "I think that would be a mistake. There may be a little bit of that in there -- we're all human beings -- but I hope not much."

Ah, who cares.

Come on, Larry, let it all hang out.

No one pities Ballard (6-11, 5.34) or Robinson (4-9, 5.18). The Berlin Wall was still standing when Ballard last won at home. The Wailing Wall would be a fitting backdrop for Robinson.

This is a guy who thinks the Orioles yanked him from the rotation because he would have cashed a $25,000 incentive for making his 20th start. As it was, Robinson was lucky to get to 19. He won only once after May 29.

Hemond said he wasn't even aware Robinson was nearing an incentive. Say what you want about the GM: He doesn't cheat players. His team, of course, isn't above trying, but Robinson still has no case.

Where have you gone, Mickey Tettleton?

If anything, Robinson owes the Orioles $25,000, for that's the amount the club would have received if he was claimed on waivers. Both he and Ballard had options, but they needed to clear waivers because their first major-league promotion was more than three years ago.

Kilgus (0-2, 5.08) is out of options, so now he too will move onto the waiver wire. Assistant GM Frank Robinson said the club spent nearly a month trying to trade all three pitchers, but found "no interest."

The Orioles should be ashamed of coming north with this staff, whose collective value -- minus Ben McDonald, Gregg Olson and a few others -- is roughly equivalent to a dozen Pet Rocks. Roy Smith and Dave Johnson better watch out, or they'll be next.

Which leaves the three newest musketeers.

Mussina (10-4, 2.87 at Rochester) has 192 minor-league innings under him. Poole (3-2, 2.79, nine saves) is averaging more than a strikeout per inning for his career. And Jones (4-2, 2.36) made startling progress this season after starting at Double A.

Not even Mussina, however, is an answer in himself. The Orioles won't truly be serious about assembling a major-league staff until they trade for pitching or sign a free-agent starter or two.

As bad as things are in Boston, let's not hear any more about how free agents are the inevitable ruin of a team, not with Jack Morris and Chili Davis sparking Minnesota and Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream leading Atlanta.

The question is whether the Orioles will dare increase their payroll with club owner Eli Jacobs interested in selling the team. Frank Robinson, for one, believes they can try, as long as they adopt a sensible approach.

"We'll have a free hand to sign free agents if we feel that's what we want to do," Robinson said. "I don't think they're going to try to scale down the payroll to sell the ballclub."

Let's hope he's right.

Let's hope the purge marks a new beginning.

The Orioles. Grasping reality. What a concept.

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