Reynolds comes, B. Ripken goes

December 12, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Orioles drew some criticism for their apparent indecisiveness at the winter meetings earlier this week, but the front office made a couple of difficult decisions yesterday that could have a significant effect on the chemistry of the team.

General manager Roland Hemond announced that the Orioles had signed All-Star free-agent second baseman Harold Reynolds a one-year contract worth $1.65 million plus incentives. To make way for Reynolds to play full time at second base, the club waived Bill Ripken for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.

Reynolds, 32, built a reputation as one of baseball's best all-around players during his 10-year career with the Seattle Mariners, but had been displaced at second base last season by promising Bret Boone. The Orioles seem confident he still can play outstanding defense and the club is banking he'll bounce back from his worst offensive season since 1986 to solidify the top third of the batting order.

"I feel if I go out and play -- and I always played about 160 games until last year with Bret Boone -- I can hit .280 and steal 30 to 50 bases," Reynolds said during a conference call. "I think this is going to be a great place to be. I feel I'm a perfect fit."

He apparently had offers from the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Mets, but accepted a $512,000 pay cut to sign with the

Orioles and remain in the American League.

"We're pleased that he has chosen to join the Orioles," Hemond said. "We wanted to add some speed and he gives us that. He is a durable player -- he played almost every game for five seasons before the Mariners decided to go with Bret Boone -- and he is an excellent defensive player."

His arrival left Ripken with no place to play, so the Orioles chose to waive him immediately and give him the benefit of the remaining months of the off-season to find another major-league job.

"We felt it would be difficult for him to accommodate the signing of Harold Reynolds," Hemond explained. "We feel it would be better to allow him to enter the free-agent market now, than to wait until the spring when it might be more difficult to find a job.

It was difficult to make that decision, but we felt it would be to his benefit to do it now instead of at a later date."

Still, the abrupt departure of Ripken raised other questions. There had been speculation for more than a year that he and Cal Ripken Sr. would not be long for the franchise once the Orioles signed Cal Ripken Jr. to a long-term extension. Less than four months after that contract was finalized, both Bill Ripken and his father have left the organization.

"People will surmise whatever they choose to," Hemond said at a small news conference at Camden Yards, "but I've told you many times that one of my goals was to add speed to this ballclub. In regards to the Ripken family, I continue to have the utmost respect for the contribution they have made throughout the years."

Bill Ripken did not return phone calls. He told WMAR-TV he was shocked more than bitter over his release.

"I've been hearing things for a long time now that they needed another second baseman and I guess it finally caught up," he said.

"Who knows? I might get bitter later. It's just one of those things. You realize that baseball is a business. I really realize it at this point in time."

Ron Shapiro, the agent for Cal and Bill Ripken, said, "It's a shame to see that a unique combination at second base and shortstop will be broken up."

Baseball rules prohibited other teams from making inquiries about Ripken until he was released, but Shapiro said he was confident the second basemen would be picked up by another team.

Ripken batted .230 last year with four home runs and 36 RBI. Reynolds batted .247 and stole just 15 bases last year, but he is a career .260 hitter who led the league with 60 stolen bases in 1987 and scored 100 runs in 1990. If the season were to begin today, he likely would bat second in the order behind Brady Anderson.

"It's a little bit early to write out a lineup," manager Johnny Oates said, "but he can handle the bat. He could be a good No. 2 hitter, and on the days when Brady needs a day off, it gives us a legitimate leadoff hitter."

The move also impacts reserve infielder Mark McLemore, who joined Ripken in a moderately successful second base platoon last season. Oates said McLemore would compete for a utility job in the spring and could even show up in a reserve outfield role.

Reynolds is aware that he has been placed in a potentially uncomfortable situation. He has pushed Ripken off the team and cost McLemore significant playing time. He also has to come to terms with Cal Ripken, who can't be happy to see his brother go.

"I've gotten to know Cal a little bit over the years," Reynolds said. "He's a great guy. I think this is a baseball situation. It's just one of those things,and I think he'll understand that."

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