The future is now, and Oates hopes for winning attitude

BASEBALL

August 04, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

The future has arrived a little earlier than anyone in the Baltimore Orioles front office might have expected when the 1991 season began. Now it's time to find out whether it will be a bright one.

Right-hander Mike Mussina, the new standard-bearer for the Orioles youth movement, is scheduled to make his first major-league start today. Manager John Oates is putting anywhere from three to five rookies into the starting lineup every game.

The club obviously is in a rebuilding mode, but Oates and upper management insist that they are not throwing in the towel.

Well, they aren't, but it's just a matter of semantics. No one seriously believes that the Orioles can win the American League East this year, even if there remains an infinitesimal mathematical possibility. But there still is something to gain from 1991.

"A winning attitude," Oates said. "We can develop that by winning as many of the last 60 ballgames as we possibly can. Losing can be habit-forming. We are not going to tolerate that."

Oates firmly believes that one can win games and develop players at the same time. He saw it happen in 1989. Everybody saw it happen. He's hoping that the next two months put the Orioles in a position to contend next year.

The club was going to have to put some of these young players to the test at this level eventually. What better time to find out if they will be ready to start next season with the big-league club. Otherwise, they would be right back at square one next year -- wishing and hoping, but not really knowing.

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The Chicago White Sox celebrated the first anniversary of Frank Thomas' arrival at the major-league level on Friday with a statistical breakdown of his first year in the bigs.

Over that period, Thomas played in 161 games and led the major leagues in on-base percentage (.450). He also ranked first in walks (133), fourth in slugging percentage (.535), ninth in batting average (.318) and sixth in RBI (106). He was the only player to rank in the top 10 in all five of those categories.

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Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder is one of five players who has not missed a game this year, and Sparky Anderson said he won't get a day off unless he asks for one. The Tigers manager is understandably reluctant to take Fielder out of the lineup, what with his 30 home runs and 88 RBI, but Fielder doesn't seem to mind.

"I never wanted to be Cal Ripken," Fielder said, "but as long as I feel good mentally, I want to play."

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Anderson told reporters recently that the Tigers would not be intimidated by large salaries in their pursuit of pitching help, but remain reluctant to give up any of their top young prospects.

"The money has nothing to do with it," he said. "We'll take on any salary, but we'll guard our young players with our life because that's all we've got. They're like strawberry jam -- you've got to preserve it."

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St. Louis Cardinals manager Joe Torre, after his club lost a tough

one on Tuesday night: "Maybe I'll go back to the hotel and watch 'Silence of the Lambs,' just to relax."

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Give former San Diego Padres outfielder Shawn Abner credit for being forthright. Here's how he summed up the deal that sent him to the California Angels in exchange for third baseman Jack Howell.

"If the guy [Howell] comes in and gets one hit a month, he'll do more than I ever did," said Abner, a former No. 1 draft choice. "I

did nothing -- absolutely nothing."

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Parting shot: Abner welcomed the change of scenery, especially the switch from Yuma, Ariz., to Mesa/Tempe for spring training.

"We weren't allowed to say anything bad about Yuma," Abner said. "Yuma stinks. I hope I never have to go back." He probably will have to go back, however. The Angels traditionally open their Cactus League exhibition season with a three or (arrghhh!) four-game series in the so-called desert spa.

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New Rangers pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd had the dubious pleasure of returning to the American League with back-to-back starts against his old teammates, the Boston Red Sox. He lost both, and was hammered for seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings at Fenway Park.

"It was the worst day of my life," said Boyd, who did not leave the Red Sox on good terms. "It didn't make me feel good at all to pitch here. There are too many bad memories. For me to get traded and have to make my first two starts against the Boston Red Sox, God must hate me. It was like going to jail."

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have been in first place in the NL East since April 22, while the other three divisions have been in a state of flux. Over that period, the lead has changed hands 12 times in the AL West, with every team except the Kansas City Royals spending at least one day in first place. There have been 10 lead changes in the AL East, involving three teams, and seven lead changes in the NL West, involving four teams.

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