Giving Cal. Sr. boot is little boost

JOHN EISENBERG

October 17, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

ATLANTA -- Let's see, the Orioles finished seven games behind the Blue Jays, and a new third-base coach might make up two, at the most. That leaves five. Think the Orioles are planning any big, bold moves to make up that difference?

Don't think too hard. The answer is no.

It's not that they were wrong to dismiss Cal Ripken Sr. as their third-base coach. It was time. But don't make the mistake of thinking this is particularly important. It is a small move by a team that needs to make a much larger move, and won't.

Are they ever going to do something real? Something that might actually cut into the talent gap at the top of the division?

Watching the playoffs, if you can stay awake that late, you may have noticed two free agents named Barry Bonds and Ruben Sierra. They're both power-hitting outfielders, which is exactly what the Orioles need. It's a perfect fit. But it will never happen.

Eli Jacobs hasn't gone on record saying that the club won't get into any big-money bidding, but his interpreters have said so.

Do they really think they can catch the Jays just making these little moves? They hung close into September this season, but the sizable difference between the team was apparent by the end.

It's not news that the Orioles are spendthrifts, but we're crossing the line into obscenity now. This newspaper has reported that the club will have an operating profit of $18.4 million this year. An economist has written a book in which he says the figure could be $40 million. Whatever the sum, the franchise is up to its beak in cash. But it won't part with enough to sign a player who might deliver a division title.

It's called taking your sellouts for granted. What a shame.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays aren't going anywhere, except maybe back to the playoffs again next year. They aren't going to sit even if they win the World Series. They might lose Joe Carter and David Cone to free agency, but they will sign someone else from the top rack. You can be sure of it. The Jays love winning. They have a lot of money and don't mind exchanging some to enjoy success.

The Orioles primarily don't mind raising ticket prices -- in the middle of a pennant race, without mentioning in the news release that some tickets were going up 50 percent.

Harrrrrumph.

Not, to repeat, that there is anything wrong with their decision to take Senior out of the coach's box. His performance was not what drove the club to it, though.

Sure, he committed a few blunders, most notably the now-infamous "Hulett hold" in the first game of that last Jays series. But all third-base coaches make similar mistakes

sometimes. The truth was that Senior's judgment was reasonably sound often enough. The new man probably will do (( better, but you can be sure he will also get leveled on the talk shows.

What really drove the club to this, in the end, was Senior's lingering bitterness over his firing as manager in 1988. He didn't talk much in the clubhouse, but it wasn't hard to see that his attitude was sour. Who wants that around?

No, it was not fair for the club to fire him six games into a season. But all managers get fired, or at least the mortal ones. Frank Robinson got fired by the Orioles three years later, and also, like Senior, took another job with the team. He was bitter for a while. He got over it.

Senior should have recognized that, his firing aside, the Orioles have treated his family royally. They just signed Cal Jr. to a $30 million contract. And they gave Billy a chance to prove himself in the majors, and, based on potential, Billy probably wouldn't have gotten such a chance with any other team.

The Orioles have done right by the Ripkens. They even gave Senior his old job back. But he just couldn't shake his bitterness.

There were other factors, too. Often, Junior was in the batter's box when Senior got upset enough to argue balls and strikes. Whether there really was favoritism, who knows? But it sure looked like it.

And as for whether this became a much easier move to make with Junior finally signed, well, wasn't that the first thing you thought?

One certainty is that breaking this news to Senior was the hardest task of Johnny Oates' career as manager. He ate breakfast with Senior every morning at spring training. He respected his knowledge. But he knew it was time.

Just as he knows the Orioles need to make a much bigger move than this if they're going to catch the Jays. But other people make those decisions.

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