CHICAGO -- The last time John Oates was in Chicago, he was a central figure in a baseball espionage story. Whether it was real or imagined has not, and may never be, determined.
Frank Robinson was the Orioles' manager then, and he was so convinced the White Sox were using unconventional methods to steal signs from the opposition that he accused them of cheating and said he would file a report with the American League.
That was back in April. The Orioles were still quasi-contenders, Glenn Davis was sidelined with what was supposed to be a groin injury, Ben McDonald had just returned from his first stint on the disabled list, and Oates was a first base coach who accidentally stumbled upon what the Orioles considered an illegal video room adjacent to the home team dugout.
The fact that Robinson was acutely aware of White Sox coach
Joe Nossek's ability to steal signs, having had him on his staff in Cleveland 15 years ago, made the Orioles all that much more suspicious.
But, as the Orioles return for a second visit to the new Comiskey Park, things have changed. Oates has replaced Robinson as manager, the Orioles are no longer even considered to be pretenders, and subterfuge is only a passing concern.
The White Sox, who were also struggling when the Orioles last visited here, are hanging tough as challengers in the American League's Western Division for the second year in a row.
But, if there's one thing Oates claims he is not worrying about as he prepares for a three-game series this weekend, it's the "spy factor," as espoused by the White Sox and Nossek.
"A lot of teams have gone in there since we were there," said Oates, when asked about the case of the alleged hidden spy-cams. "I would think it's either been rectified, or it didn't exist."
The Orioles had been concerned about the fact White Sox manager Jeff Torborg had clear viewing into the Orioles' dugout, from where signs are transmitted onto the field. The home team dugout, on the other hand, was protected by a padded covering that was installed with instructions from Torborg shortly after the new park opened, and just before the Orioles arrived for their series.
Robinson acknowledged that Nossek was a master sign-stealer, but was concerned that the White Sox might also be using video equipment. "He doesn't need any help, believe me," said Robinson. "He's the best."
Possibly because the visiting team dugout is now also protected from viewing by the opposite side, Oates said he is unconcerned about the video possibilities. He remains aware, however, of Nossek's presence.
"We're working on it," said Oates, when asked if he had any special maneuvers planned to combat Nossek's eyes.
"We're going to have so many people giving signs he won't know who to look at," said Oates. Traditionally, signs from the dugout go from the manager, but Oates obviously plans to have other bench personnel involved.
Which no doubt means that Nossek will concentrate all of his attention on third base coach Cal Ripken Sr. when the Orioles are hitting.
Glenn Davis is expected to resume regular batting practice this weekend after proceeding cautiously during the three-game series in Seattle.
Davis hit only against "soft tosses" earlier in the week, but he and Oates said it was part of a pre-arranged workout schedule.
"It would be nice to pick up where I left off," said Davis, whose last at-bat produced a home run during the Orioles' last visit to the new Comiskey Park. He quickly added, however, that an imminent return from the disabled list was not part of his program.
Oates said he thought Davis "was closer than ever" to returning to the lineup, but hedged on when he thought the injured first baseman might go on a rehabilitation assignment.
The best guess is that Davis will swing against simulated game pitching when the Orioles return to Baltimore.