Third baseman Craig Worthington emerged from the Orioles' magical 1989 run as one of the most promising young players in baseball. He drove in 70 runs in his first full major-league season. He was named Rookie Player of the Year by The Sporting News. He seemed to address a third-base weakness that had existed since Doug DeCinces was traded after the 1981 season.
But the magic wore off in a hurry, and Worthington wore out his welcome in Baltimore.
He was traded to the San Diego Padres yesterday for Class AAA pitcher Jim Lewis and Class A outfielder Steve Martin. The Padres also got Class A pitching prospect Tom Martin in a deal that seemed to work for everybody involved.
The Orioles get more pitching depth for a player who had fallen out of favor after two years of injuries and inconsistency. The Padres fill a void at third base. And Worthington gets a fresh start with a team that plays less than 100 miles from his Southern California home.
"It feels really good," said Worthington. "The San Diego Padres aregiving me a legitimate shot at making their team and playing regularly this year. It really is good news."
Orioles officials say he would have gotten a legitimate chance to win a job this spring in Sarasota, Fla., but Worthington wasn't so sure after spending most of the 1991 season with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. Leo Gomez won the job by default when Worthington suffered a hamstring strain in May. Gomez went on to lead major-league rookies with 16 home runs.
"I can't believe that I would have had a real shot to make that team," he said. "They like Gomez, and I've got to respect that. I have no hard feelings toward [manager] Johnny [Oates] or anybody there."
The deal was made by assistant general manager Frank Robinson, whose role in the Orioles front office appears to be expanding. He was the one who gave Worthington the chance to excel in 1989. Now, in a sense, he is the one responsible for giving him a fresh start in a new league.
"We would have given Craig a shot this spring," Robinson said, "but we feel this works out better for the club and Craig. He gets an opportunity to be the everyday third baseman in San Diego. We get a little more pitching help. It's a good situation for everybody."
It also was an important step for Robinson, who hopes that his position with the Orioles is a steppingstone to a job as general manager -- either in Baltimore or with some other organization. He is GM Roland Hemond's chief adviser on trade discussions involving National League teams, but this was the first time he had handled a deal alone.
"I thought I got excited on Opening Day in my first at-bat," Robinson said. "This also gave me that kind of feeling. It was very exciting for me. I had a couple of sleepless nights over it."
Worthington seemed pretty excited himself. He has spent two years trying to duplicate his impressive performance of 1989, in which he hit 15 home runs. He caused some consternation when he showed up for training camp a few days late in 1990, then had a lackluster sophomore season in which he batted .226 with eight homers and 44 RBI.
He came back with a solid spring in 1991, but so did Gomez, who would inherit the everyday job at third base when Worthington pulled a hamstring charging a ground ball in May. Gomez's solid performance last summer may have pushed Worthington to aggravate the hamstring injury a few weeks later.
"I figured that if I didn't come right back, they were going to give the job to him," Worthington said. "I came back because I wanted to show them. I felt like time was running out for me to put some numbers up. But all I did was hurt my chances."
Padres GM Joe McIllvane stopped short of saying that Worthington would be the club's top third-base candidate, but he had no reservations about making the deal.
"It's one of those trades where I think we've got nothing to lose," he said. "I'm not saying Craig Worthington will definitely be our third baseman, but he will definitely be a candidate."
The Orioles have chosen to sacrifice some depth at third base for more depth in the bullpen and the outfield, though neither Lewis nor Martin figures to make the Opening Day roster.
Lewis, 27, was 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA for the Class AAA Las Vegas Stars of the Pacific Coast League, and had no record in 12 appearances in the majors. He was placed on the 40-man major-league roster and will get the opportunity to compete for a job in spring training. Steve Martin is a 24-year-old speedster who stole 42 bases in Class A last year and has 97 steals in three professional seasons.
Left-hander Tom Martin pitched for the Orioles' Class A Kane County Cougars. He was 4-10, with a 3.64 ERA.