Spotlight on Ripken likely to include overdue Gold Glove award this week

BASEBALL

November 24, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Rawlings Gold Glove awards will be announced Tuesday, and it seems almost certain that Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken finally will get one.

Strange as it may seem, sometimes it takes a great offensive season to get some defensive recognition. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and it doesn't always work that way, but it happens more often than you might expect.

Look for it to happen to Ripken, who was passed over in favor of Chicago White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen last year, a year in which Ripken set a major-league record for fewest errors (three) at his position and set another with 95 consecutive errorless games.

This year, Ripken made 11 errors, which -- while outstanding -- is not as statistically impressive as his performance in 1990. But, this year, he had the best offensive season of his career, which kept him in the spotlight from start to finish.

It would be nice to think that the coaches and managers who select the Gold Glove winners thoughtfully examine the defensive statistics of each player before marking their ballots, but it doesn't work that way. The ballots are distributed during the last two weeks of the season, and most of the voters go on their observations. It isn't hard to see how offensive excellence could end up playing a major role in the selection process.

None of this is meant to discount Ripken's defensive performance. He led the American League in fielding percentage, putouts, assists, total chances and double plays. He should win it solely on his merits in the field. It just doesn't work that way, or he would have won it last year.

Ripken long has been considered the consummate offensive shortstop. He is one of eight players to hit 20 or more home runs in each of his first 10 full major-league seasons. If all goes well, he'll pass Ernie Banks in a couple of years as baseball's all-time home run leader at his position -- Ripken is 42 behind Banks' 293. But a lackluster season at the plate in 1990 took attention away from his record-breaking defensive season.

That will not happen this year. Ripken has spent the past month on the hardware circuit, collecting enough bronze to start his own recycling center. He has been named American League Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He won Player of the Year honors from The Associated Press and The Sporting News. He likely will be in New York Tuesday to pick up the prestigious defensive award that lTC somehow eluded him the past 10 years.

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The Cleveland Indians traded away pitching ace Greg Swindell last week, making him the latest in a long line of quality pitchers to leave the team during the past decade.

Swindell was 9-16 with a 3.48 ERA last year, numbers that reflect the hopelessness of the team more than his ability to pitch. He figures to turn that won-lost record around next year with the Cincinnati Reds, who traded Scott Scudder and Jack Armstrong to get him.

It looks like a good deal for the Indians, who didn't figure to re-sign Swindell when he became eligible for free agency next year, but they always seem to come out on the wrong end eventually.

This is the same team that traded John Denny to the Philadelphia Phillies late in the 1982 season. Denny went 19-6 the next year and won the Cy Young Award. The Phillies won the pennant. The Indians traded Rick Sutcliffe to the Chicago Cubs in 1984. He finished that season on a 16-1 roll and also won the Cy Young Award. The Cubs won the NL East title. Cleveland traded Bert Blyleven to the Minnesota Twins in 1985. He won 17 games the next year and helped the club win the World Series in 1987.

But the Indians didn't learn anything from all that. They traded Bud Black to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1990 and sent Tom Candiotti to Canada this year. Is this club trying to lose or what?

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The Rolaids Relief Man standings for 1991 reflect a rough season for Orioles stopper Gregg Olson, but he still tied for eighth place among major-league leaders with 31 saves and ranked second in the American League in appearances and games finished.

The rankings also reflect the surprising performances of newcomer Todd Frohwirth and oldcomer Mike Flanagan, who both ranked among the league's top five relievers in ERA and innings pitched.

Frohwirth's 1.87 ERA was second only to California Angels stopper Bryan Harvey (1.60) among AL relievers. Frohwirth also ranked second in innings pitched with 96 1/3 and ranked among the leaders in victories (seven) and strikeouts (77). Flanagan ranked fifth with a 2.00 ERA and fourth with 94 1/3 innings pitched in an impressive comeback season.

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Orioles orthopedist Dr. Charles Silberstein will be co-chairman of major conference on baseball medicine in Baltimore in January.

Silberstein and California Angels orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum will chair the meeting, which will bring together members of the Association of Major League Baseball Physicians and the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel on Jan. 17-19.

The conference is directed toward coaches, trainers, doctors and physical therapists.

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The free-agent market has been as sluggish as the economy, except when it comes to outfielder Bobby Bonilla. He has received several offers, most in the same ballpark as the five-year, $23 million contract offered recently by the Philadelphia Phillies.

The New York Mets apparently made a similar offer last week, and the Angels met with Bonilla Friday night.

But there are more teams that are hesitant to wade into the market with baseball's economic future so uncertain. They no longer can take their massive television revenues for granted.

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Whatever happened to Jeff Robinson, whose parting shots last July cost him a chance to compete for a place in the Orioles' starting rotation this spring?

It looks as if he might end up in camp with the Texas Rangers. He has been working with Rangers pitching coach Tom House, whose offbeat training methods have proven very successful with some struggling pitchers.

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