Orioles put out a contract on the future Now Oates needs some players ...

Ken Rosenthal

October 08, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

"How ya doin'?" Earl Weaver growled to John Oates in the dugout Saturday, moments before the introduction of the Orioles' All-Time Team.

Oates barely uttered his reply before Earl interrupted, "You'd be doing a whole lot better if you had the team I'm ready to go out there with."

Thanks, Earl.

Come back and see us again.

Weaver gets Brooks and Frank, Palmer and Boog. Oates gets Leo and Chito, Tito and Devo, and the privilege of hiring the Orioles' sixth pitching coach in eight years.

The revolving door keeps spinning. The local darlings still aren't winning. There's no disputing the firing of Al Jackson, but you wonder if the Orioles will ever get the point.

It's nice they gave Oates a two-year contract. It would be even nicer if they'd give him some players who might not lose 95 games. And let him pick his three new coaches as well.

Don't count on the latter. Usually teams promote from within, while granting a new manager one or two of his own men. That's how Oates got to Baltimore from Rochester in the first place.

Still, Frank Robinson was allowed to select Jackson and McCraw for the two most critical jobs, pitching and hitting. Oates' only outside hire figures to be a baserunning coach, perhaps Davey Lopes.

Hitting coach Tom McCraw, bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks and third base coach Cal Ripken Sr. were retained. Rochester manager Greg Biagini and pitching coach Dick Bosman appear the front-runners to replace first-base coach Curt Motton and Jackson. That doesn't leave Oates much room.

He said he will interview "a bunch" of other candidates, and his list could grow as other clubs make staff changes. The usual shuffling is taking place, with the ensuing domino effect.

Cleveland retained Dom Chiti, Oates' former pitching coach in ,, Rochester and perhaps Bosman's main competition. But Texas fired Lopes, with whom Oates grew acquainted as a teammate in Los Angeles and coach with the Chicago Cubs.

Earlier this season, Oates said he wanted to add a baserunning coach like Lopes. He repeated that desire yesterday without mentioning Lopes' name.

That doesn't mean Lopes is coming to Baltimore, but he's clearly a candidate. Oates, 54-71 with 35 one-run losses, is intent on improving the Orioles' running game, which was virtually nonexistent this season.

No major-league team stole fewer bases, not even Boston. In fact, every club but the Red Sox finished with more steals than the Orioles had attempts. Juan Bell, one of the club's fastest runners, didn't try one steal despite appearing in 100 games.

The club finished with 50 steals in 83 attempts, a dismal success rate of 60 percent. That's why Mike Devereaux is going to Instructional League. And that's why Brady Anderson still fits on this team.

Still, for all the attention it's getting, the lack of a running game is partly a reflection of the club's terrible pitching. Four 20-game winners? How about one with 10?

This is only the fourth straight year the Orioles entered the offseason in desperate need for a veteran starter. Maybe this year they'll dig up somebody better than Jeff Robin son.

As it stands, they finished last in the majors with a 4.59 ERA, and for the second straight year, not one of their pitchers worked more than 190 innings.

By contrast, Detroit had nearly as bad an ERA (4.51), but three 200-inning starters (Bill Gullickson, Walt Terrell, Frank Tanana) just one year after losing workhorse Jack Morris.

The Tigers tied for second.

The Orioles finished sixth.

Is this so difficult to figure out?

Oates spoke glowingly of the club's young talent yesterday, but for all the promise of a Leo Gomez or Mike Mussina, the 1992 season hinges on whether the front office can acquire more pitching. Better pitching. Quality pitching.

There will be no excuses, even if club owner Eli Jacobs refuses to crack open his wallet for expensive free agents like Kirk McCaskill and

Mike Morgan and Mike Moore (to go with Mussina and Bob Milacki and Ben McDonald).

Lefthander Joe Hesketh was released twice in 1990 before signing with Boston. All he did was finish 12-4 with a 3.29 ERA this season, leading the majors in winning percentage.

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond routinely lands such players on the cheap, from Randy Milligan to Sam Horn to Chito Martinez, Mike Flanagan to Todd Frohwirth to Jim Poole.

But for all his success swinging minor trades and the waiver wire, Hemond has never had any luck acquiring starting pitchers in such fashion. He should stop taking chances, and swing a blockbuster for Dennis Martinez.

Earl no doubt would approve.

Of course, he'd still have the better team.

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