Seconding motion of more McLemore

MIKE LITTWIN

June 28, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

The issue is Bill Ripken, who, if you can believe it, doesn't want to be called Billy anymore because . . .

What? It makes him seem less mature?

Look, if maturity were the determining factor in deciding your name, Bill Ripken could go by Wayne or Garth and star in his own movie, dude. Bill's World would do as well.

But the issue isn't Bill/Billy's name. It's him. The thing about young Bill is that people either love him or hate him. And with good cause.

Some suggest that the only reason he's in the big leagues at all is because of his last name and certain influential relatives who share it. These people say the Orioles are stuck with him because if they dump Bill, then brother Cal, in a deep snit, takes off when his contract ends this year. Of course, Cal didn't leave when they fired his dad, but, tell me, who can resist a good conspiracy theory these days?

Others insist Bill is a great fielder and plays just as hard as his big brother and that, yeah, he's not a great hitter, but did you see him turn that double play?

Either side could be right.

Here are a couple of truths:

* In Bill Ripken's tenure with the Orioles, he has been their best second baseman.

* In Bill Ripken's tenure with the Orioles, the club has never tried terribly hard to find a better one.

Which brings us to Mark McLemore.

The Orioles didn't get McLemore to replace Ripken, even if it may be turning out that way. McLemore was just a guy. He was a guy who, in the past two years, had been cut by the Angels, the Indians and the Astros. That's a pretty clear indication that it might be time to find a job that doesn't require hitting a curveball.

It's also not the kind of thing you want on your resume, unless you hope to impress Roland Hemond, the patron saint of castoffs. As we know, Hemond, who takes in stray dogs, stray cats and stray middle infielders, couldn't resist McLemore, who was all over that waiver wire.

The problem was tracking McLemore down. In '90 and '91, McLemore played for a total of nine different teams, six of them in the minor leagues. When he writes his autobiography, they can use it as a geography book.

Anyway, you know the story. McLemore made the Orioles in the spring, just in time for Bill to put in his usual quick start at the plate, and before you could say Cal-to-Bill-to-Moose, Mark McLemore was in the lineup and hitting like he was Mark McGwire. He hit .364 in April.

And then he went 7-for-his-next-36, and Bill was back in there. And so it has gone. Back and forth. In and out. You think baseball is a chess match? (Actually, only George Will does.) This time, it's a tennis match.

xTC When McLemore is playing, the talk-radio waves are flooded with the pro-Bill folk.

When Ripken is playing, the anti-Billers come to call.

Ross Perot would let the callers decide who gets to play second base. Johnny Oates has a different plan. He makes the decision himself.

He says he has a system, but he won't tell us exactly what it is.

"The guy who I feel is going to do the job that night," he says in explanation.

Neither player has yet shown he's capable of sustaining anything offensively over long periods of time (although Bill did hit .291 one year; no, I can't explain it either).

Oates looks for a hot bat, or at least a warm one, and goes with it for a while.

Lately, it has been McLemore. It has to be because, as of yesterday afternoon, Bill was hitting .210 and McLemore checked in at a relatively robust .239.

But here's a stat that may shock you: Going into this season, Ripken had a higher career batting average than McLemore -- .247 to .225.

Here's one that won't: Bill has 11 hits in his past 63 at-bats.

What to do? You do what Oates has been doing. You play them both. Under that system, McLemore and Ripken, with a little help from Tim Hulett, have driven in more runs -- 37 to 34 -- than Orioles second basemen drove in all of last season.

But I would have to play McLemore more.

I like this guy. He has a make-something-happen mentality on a team that likes to make home runs happen. When he bats ninth, putting him ahead of Brady Anderson, you've got a lineup that has as much go-go as the Slo-O's ever get. As a bonus, McLemore is hitting .381 with runners in scoring position. The truth is that it's people like McLemore who make seasons like this possible.

If I'm Oates, I go with McLemore until his play talks me out of it. Let's see what the conspiracy buffs make of that.

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