Orioles turning over a new leaf -- of their checkbook

MIKE LITTWIN

November 13, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Don't break out those Crazy Larry T-shirts quite yet, but the million-saved-is-a-million-earned Orioles, the original wouldn't-be-prudent bunch, are about to go semi-whacky.

You don't think this is news? This is how big it is: Glenn Davis takes a pay cut -- that's right, a pay cut, meaning he will accept less actual money than he did a year ago to play baseball, just like we were in a recession or something -- and it's the sidebar. I know. Players take pay cuts about as often as congressmen pay for haircuts, but that's not the story.

When Glenn Davis stands up and says he wants to -- and I'm quoting here -- "earn what I make," that's bound to cause a small sensation. But there's a bigger one, a singular sensation.

The story is that the Orioles paid enough to keep him. They gave him a $100,000 signing bonus, $2.815 million this year (as opposed to $3.275 a year ago), $500,000 more if he stays healthy all year and then $3.75 million the next season. That adds up to, let me get out my abacus, $7,165,000, if Davis is healthy -- and a great big, ooh-that-smarts loss if he isn't.

Probably Davis could have gotten more somewhere else if he'd tested the market. Certainly, he believed he could have, and he stayed anyway because, after playing only 49 games last season, he thought he owed the people here something. And, gosh, that's admirable. But if you know Glenn Davis, it's no surprise. He has principles, we understand. Look, he left town right after the news conference yesterday to work on opening his home for abused children in Columbus, Ga. Of course, he has principles.

If you know the Orioles, however, the news is pretty shocking.

And tighten up your seat belts, boys and girls, because the Orioles aren't done. Not-yet-crazy Larry Lucchino, club president and CEO, says his team needs a pitcher or two, and does it ever, and that the Orioles are looking hard at the free-agent market, as unsettling as that prospect might be.

"We need to do more," Lucchino said. Yes, he did.

That breeze you feel is Eli Jacobs' checkbook flapping. I wonder if anyone's told him.

All in all, it was a tough day for cynics (You don't mean me, do you? The guy who called the Davis trade rent-a-slugger?). OK, I didn't think the Orioles were going to bite this bazooka-sized bullet even though they had to. I figured they'd offer Davis a one-year deal and off he'd go to the Dodgers or Braves or some other team that didn't have the third lowest payroll in baseball.

But they had to do it because the Orioles are terrible and because they just got this brand-new stadium for free and, in their way of celebrating, raised ticket prices.

That's the same reason they have to go find a pitcher. They can acquire a free agent or they can make a trade. After seeing what free agent Jack Morris did for the Twins, the Orioles seem to understand now that they must take a chance if they want to improve. They need a pitcher they can count on to go 200 innings. Actually, they need two or three, but one would be a great start to complement their young staff.

Unfortunately, the list of free-agent pitchers doesn't exactly read like the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I give you, and not cheaply, Mike Morgan, Kirk McCaskill, Jim Deshaies, Orel Hershiser, Joe Heasketh, Atlee Hammaker, Bob Walk, Ron Darling, etc. There is Frank Viola, but he's going to cost more than even the new-look Orioles are going to pay, and he probably wouldn't come here anyway. Plus, he has his own arm problems. There are some big-name hitters -- Danny Tartabull, Bobby Bonilla -- but the Orioles have some hitters. They need some pitchers (they're not seriously considering making Gregg Olson a starter, are they?).

Maybe McCaskill, who is up and down, or Hershiser, who may not be sound, are the best bets. These are hard calls in what is truly high-stakes poker. All the Orioles can think about are Matt Young and Danny Darwin and Danny Jackson, who did not pay what you'd call a great return on investment last season. And prices, if history is a guide and I think it is, will continue to rise, even though there is nothing even close to a sure thing in the marketplace.

The better way to go, if you can find your way there, would be to locate a pitching version of Glenn Davis -- someone who is nearly a free agent and who isn't going to be re-signed and who might be available for a package. They gave Roland Hemond that contract extension, so let's see what he can do.

"You have to be smart enough," Lucchino said of the pitching pool, "to find someone who can rise to the occasion."

What's important is that the Orioles seem to be trying to be fTC smart enough. They went the extra year to get Glenn Davis, and at no small risk. Now they're investigating pitching help that could further increase the payroll at a time when they have to begin considering a break-the-bank contract for Cal Ripken, who could be a free agent after next season.

In other words, the Orioles are showing a new-look philosophy as they head to their new-look stadium. Let's be generous and not even say that it's about time.

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