Orsulak goes uptown, signs with the Mets Will back up Bonilla, Coleman and Johnson

December 19, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

Joe Orsulak had gotten pretty comfortable in Baltimore. During his five-year career with the Orioles, he had become a fan favorite and an important component of a developing team, but now he'll have to adjust to a very different set of surroundings.

Orsulak, who became a free agent at the end of the 1992 season, signed a one-year contract with the New York Mets yesterday and will be returning to the division from which he came in a 1987 trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Orioles showed little interest in keeping him after a season in which he batted .289 with four home runs and 39 RBI. He made $1.3 million in 1992, but accepted a pay cut to join the Mets as a fourth outfielder.

He signed a one-year contract for $650,000 plus $100,000 in performance bonuses.

Other clubs were interested, but Orsulak went with the one that assured him he would not be lost in the outfield shuffle. He'll likely be the swingman in an outfield that includes Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman and, perhaps, Howard Johnson.

"I think [New York Mets general manager] Al Harazin was aggressive in the sense of making Joe feel they had a place for him," said Orsulak's agent, attorney Ron Shapiro. "They had a role they needed filled. They were also aggressive in making an offer and saying let's get it done."

It was obvious that Orsulak, 30, wanted to remain in Baltimore, but it was just as apparent that the Orioles were not going to make an effort to keep him. His departure became official on Dec. 7, when the team did not offer him salary arbitration, but it was obvious already that he was on his way out of town.

"If they had wanted me back, they would have made an attempt," Orsulak said. "But they didn't and I'm sure they're happy with the players they have. I don't think they will miss me very much. They didn't offer me a contract. They didn't want me on their ballclub. That's simple."

He is going home, in a sense. Orsulak grew up in Parsippany, N.J., which is about a 45-minute drive from Shea Stadium. He was a New York Yankees fan as a kid, but said he is looking forward to playing for the Mets.

"I'm happy to be with the Mets," he said. "They made an effort to sign me. The main thing was to go with a team that really wanted me."

He is entering an environment far different from the one he left in Baltimore -- going from a provincial, close-knit community to play in front of a sometimes unforgiving New York audience -- but he doesn't seem particularly concerned.

"I've been around long enough that I feel I can deal with just about any situation," he said. "I'm not nervous about the situation. If you get caught up in it, I guess it could be a problem, but I know how to handle myself."

Orsulak handled himself well in Baltimore. He was one of the club's most consistent hitters, batting a combined .281 during his Orioles career. He also was better than advertised in the field, where he led the major leagues and set a club record with 22 outfield assists in 1991.

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