Flanagan is in, but rest of Oates' final game plan depends on standings

On baseball

August 30, 1991|By Jim Henneman

Depending on the condition of the American League's Eastern Division race, manager John Oates plans to have as many Orioles as possible participate in the final baseball game at Memorial Stadium, Oct. 6.

And, yes, that means Mike Flanagan would get his wish to pitch in the finale -- most likely as the closer.

Oates has considered the possibility of using nine different pitchers, and as many players as possible in what promises to be a special event. But two vital factors will dictate his approach.

"First of all, it depends on Detroit's position," said Oates. "If the game means something in the standings [teams 1-3 share in the payoff] that will dictate everything."

However, if the game is meaningless as far as the prime positions in the final standings are concerned, Oates will let emotions play a part, but not dictate, his lineup. "You can't make a circus out of it," he said. "It will not be like an exhibition game.

"Every seat in the place is going to be sold and the people are going to be in a mood to celebrate," said Oates. "But they will have paid to see a major-league game and you can't make a farce out of it."

Regardless of the circumstances, you can expect to see Flanagan.

"I don't know whether to start him, or let him finish," admitted Oates. "I don't know what would have the greater impact."

One way to find out is to go to the source. Flanagan was asked which he would rather do on the last day of the season, start or finish. "Finish," he said with a smile and no hesitation. "Of course, we'd have to be ahead for me to get the last out."

Flanagan, 39, began his career with the Orioles as a starter and hopefully (you never know about trades for crafty veteran lefthanders) will end it with the same team, most likely as a reliever. He's been a 20-game winner and won a Cy Young Award, and would like to be on the pitching mound when the final out is recorded in Memorial Stadium.

"It's a dream wish," he said. "I realize there are a lot of other things involved."

* WILLIE THE CAMPAIGNER: While on the subject of Flanagan, his bullpen partner Mark Williamson is doing his best to promote the veteran lefthander for "Comeback of the Year" honors.

"What did he pitch last year -- 20 innings?" asked Williamson. "He's got the numbers."

The thinking is that Steve Howe is Flanagan's biggest competition, but the Yankees reliever's comeback is more from off-the-field problems than baseball activity.

Incidentally, Flanagan's 53 appearances and 85 1/3 innings have qualified him for all of the incentive clauses in his contract, except one. He'll get one more bonus if he wins "Comeback of the Year" honors, something Williamson didn't know, but will certainly make part of his campaign.

* THE BORAS TOUCH: Three years ago, San Diego righthander Andy Benes was the first player picked in baseball's amateur draft. He eventually signed for a then-record $230,000.

The following year, after two months of haggling, Ben McDonald landed a three-year package from the Orioles worth $1.15 million, including incentives. Last year Todd Van Poppel, the top prospect in the draft though not the top pick (he scared Atlanta off), got a $1.2 million deal with Oakland. Now the Yankees have given Brien Taylor, this year's No. 1 pick, $1.55 million over three years.

Benes came out of Evanston, Ill., McDonald out of LSU, Van Poppel from Texas and Taylor from North Carolina. All four were "advised" during their negotiations by Scott Boras, a lawyer from Southern California.

So are the three remaining unsigned top 10 choices, all righthanded pitchers -- Kenny Henderson (the No. 5 pick by the Brewers), John Burke (No. 6 by Houston) and Joey Hamilton (No. 8 by San Diego). Henderson will be the second No. 1 pick Milwaukee has lost to the University of Miami in the last five drafts (Alex Fernandez spurned the Brewers' offer in 1987).

The Boras influence has become so great that many teams are studiously trying to avoid his clients. But they are tough to identify because the first piece of advice they get from Boras is to not reveal his name -- until after the draft.

Houston and Montreal, the candidates to pick first next year, are already shuddering in the wake of the Taylor signing. The Yankees, incidentally, gave away a lot of the candy but not the store when they signed Taylor. They refused to give the 19-year-old lefthander the major-league contract he had sought. That isn't as insignificant as it appears, because it gives the Yankees three extra years to develop Taylor, if needed.

* CITO OUT FOR YEAR? There is growing concern in Toronto that Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston may not be able to return to the dugout this season. He is hospitalized by a bulging disk condition that has not improved.

Gaston has been under heavy sedation and told interim manager Gene Tenace two days ago that he felt worse than he did when he entered the hospital last week. It is possible Cito will have to undergo surgery.

* THE VOTE'S IN: Here are some postseason awards they can start engraving now (in addition to Flanagan's "Comeback" citation, of course):

Sparky Anderson and Bobby Cox (with apologies to Tom Kelly and Joe Torre) get Manager of the Year honors and you shouldn't have to think twice about Cecil Fielder as the American League's MVP.

Others will have to wait for closer scrutiny.

* THIS 'N THAT: The initial response for season tickets next year has been so great the Orioles are wondering if, or when, they should consider cutting off sales. Which should help afford the rent.

The Orioles have said they will honor the International League suspension of Luis Mercedes, which probably means he'll be recalled as soon as Rochester's season ends next week. Which will cost David Segui even more playing time.

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