Despite improvement, O's still in need of power-hitting outfielder

The Inside Stuff

April 06, 1992|By Bill Tanton

As the Orioles open their American League season it seems to me that the club, despite its encouraging 17-11 record in spring training, is still in need of a thumper in the outfield.

The O's have some talented outfielders but none who could be called a thumper -- a man who might hit 25 or 30 home runs and drive in 90 runs.

Ballclubs like to have such a hitter in their outfield, but Brady Anderson and prospective replacement Luis Mercedes hit almost no home runs. Joe Orsulak is good for about five a year and maybe 50 RBIs. Mike Devereaux once -- last year -- hit 19 homers and had 59 RBIs.

"It doesn't bother me," said manager John Oates as he watched the club take batting practice.

Is that, he was asked, because he has a thumper, Cal Ripken, at shortstop, where few clubs have a heavy hitter?

"We've got one there," said Oates, "and we've got one at first base [Glenn Davis]."

What area does worry Oates?

"None of them," he said. "I'm not worried about anything if we can get the kind of pitching we got this spring. If we do that, we won't be the '27 Yankees but we'll be all right."

I told Oates that a poll on a radio talk show yesterday had some callers picking the O's third, second or even first in the AL East -- a lot higher than people picked them when spring training began.

Oates smiled.

"Good pitching will do that," he said.

It wasn't easy for Oates to smile yesterday. The club had just released 42-year-old catcher Rick Dempsey, without question one of the most popular players in Orioles history. Dempsey was the World Series MVP when the Orioles beat the Phillies in 1983.

"Releasing Rick wasn't easy," Oates said, "but I told him things have a way of working out.

"We told him to explore what options are out there for him and to keep working out with us while he does. If he decides he wants to stay with this club in some capacity, we'll address that then."

Hey, I'm as disappointed as anybody about Dempsey. But I have to admire the O's for having the courage to make a move they felt was best for the club, even though they knew it would be unpopular with the fans.

* I never thought I'd see the day when I'd have to pay $5 to park nearly a half-mile away to see the Orioles practice. I saw it yesterday.

Those who know of Orioles general manager Roland Hemond's lifelong love affair with baseball could have predicted what his response would be when he was asked yesterday how he felt being there in that shiny new ballpark with Opening Day at hand. His answer: "Happy as could be."

* Some would call it another illustration of the dehumanizing of America when 100 times as much media attention is paid to the opening of a new building on Russell Street and to electronic images of basketball games played in Minnesota than to the death of a local man who was known and admired by many thousands.

That's the way it was, though, with the passing three days ago of Emil G. "Lefty" Reitz, whose very name is synonymous with Loyola College.

Lefty served the Jesuit college in North Baltimore for 36 years as coach and athletic director. The people at the college must have appreciated him. When they opened their new indoor arena in 1984, they named it after him -- Reitz Arena.

But when Reitz died Friday at 82 after a struggle with cancer there was hardly a mention of it. The story was dwarfed by coverage of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Final Four.

"Lefty was a good man and he had a great life," said Jim Lacy, who played for Reitz in the late '40s and is still Loyola's all-time career scoring leader. "His last few months were rough, though."

Those final months were made easier by visits to Reitz's bedside from his former athletes such as Lacy, Nap Doherty, Vince Gallagher, Tommy Lind and many others.

Lefty's Loyola teams with Lacy, Mike Zedalis, Bob Anderson and Andy O'Donnell played Villanova, Seton Hall and La Salle and won a surprising number of games against them. Those schools at that time were the full equivalent of today's Big East.

Reitz was a member of an all but vanished breed -- the athletic director who spends his working life at one school, coaches just about every sport at one time or another, and does it all with total integrity.

A mass of Christian burial will be held for him tomorrow at 10 a.m. at St. John's Church in Hyde, Md.

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