The front office was at a crossroads last winter. The club's conservative fiscal approach ran headlong into baseball's exploding salary structure, but the Orioles did some creative financing to fit Dwight Evans ($800,000 plus incentives) and Glenn Davis ($3.275 million) into the budget. They saved about $2 million by trading Phil Bradley and Mickey Tettleton and offset even more of their 1991 expenditures by releasing veteran pitcher Joe Price. The club's payroll still increased substantially, but remained among the lowest in the major leagues.
No place like home
While the front office dickered over a new spring training site in Naples, Fla., the Orioles embarked on a 33-game road trip that probably contributed to the club's dismal 1991 season. Though then-manager Frank Robinson split the squad to keep his players from getting too road-weary, the travel schedule cut into time normally allotted for full-squad fundamental drills. Front-office officials have never admitted that the homeless schedule was ill-advised, but the Orioles have leased a stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla., for training camp next year.
A pain in the neck
Davis took a big swing in the late innings of an exhibition night game at Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium and had to leave with a "kink" in his neck. It turned out to be a serious nerve injury that caused his right trapezius (shoulder muscle) to atrophy and eventually forced him out of action for 4 months of the regular season. He returned in August, but it was too late to do much good.
Big Mac's elbow attack
Ben McDonald was announced as the club's Opening Day starter about 6 weeks before Opening Day, but he wasn't even on the active roster when the season began. He felt a twinge in his elbow while warming up for a March 28 exhibition start against the Montreal Expos and spent the first 2 weeks of the season on the disabled list. McDonald returned to the disabled list May 24 and missed 5 more weeks with the same sore elbow. He also missed the final 3 weeks of the season with a sore shoulder, leaving room to wonder if he'll be physically sound in 1992.
Frank takes the rap
The Orioles returned from a 3-day trip to Detroit in late May with their starting rotation in a state of emergency and any real hope for a division title already abandoned. Somebody had to pay. Manager Frank Robinson was fired on May 23 and replaced by first-base coach John Oates. Three weeks later, GM Roland Hemond, who bore most of the responsibility for building the club, was awarded a 2-year contract extension. Go figure.
Team for sale
Principal owner Eli Jacobs shocked (and, in some cases, thrilled) local baseball fans when he announced June 5 that he was putting the Orioles up for sale. Four months later, there's room to wonder if he was serious. Several potential buyers have come forward, including millionaires Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, Stephen L. Miles and Jack Luskin, but all have come away with the impression that the team is not really for sale -- at least not at a fair market price.
Who would have figured that by Aug. 1, only Dave Johnson would remain from the 4-man starting rotation that opened the season. Jeff Ballard and Jeff Robinson were optioned to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings on July 30. Jose Mesa was already in the minor leagues, but soon rejoined the rotation. In a matter of weeks, the Orioles assembled their rotation of the future, which included Mesa, McDonald, Mike Mussina, Bob Milacki and Arthur Rhodes. Even though 2 of those pitchers (Mussina and Rhodes) had no previous major-league experience, the rotation was much improved down the stretch.
The Orioles' youth movement took some major steps forward, beginning with the emergence of Leo Gomez as the everyday third baseman. Gomez led AL rookies in home runs and played surprisingly solid defense. Club officials also are impressed with the way Mussina and reliever Jim Poole handled themselves after they were recalled on July 30. And no one is discounting the performance of outfielder Chito Martinez, who hit 20 home runs in the International League and added 12 in the majors after he was recalled on July 5.
Cal Ripken had a season to remember, even if the rest of the Orioles organization did not. He turned in the best offensive season of his career to throw his cap in the ring for the AL Most Valuable Player award. Only 3 other major-league shortstops have hit as many home runs in a season. Only 5 other American Leaguers in the past 50 years have had 40 or more doubles and 30 or more home runs in the same season. He even won Player of the Month honors for September to dismiss the popular notion that his consecutive-games streak was sapping his strength down the stretch. Cal apparently knows timing, since the club probably will have to negotiate a contract extension with him during the next few months.
New stadium almost ready
The new stadium is almost complete and will be ready for Opening Day of 1992. It's even going to have a name: Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was an obvious compromise when Jacobs and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer came to loggerheads over what the new park should be called, but it took weeks to settle the dispute. Look on the bright side, they could have compromised on something like Eli and Don's Old-Fashioned Baseball Emporium. See you at Camden Yards.