Baines just right for Camden Yards

JOHN EISENBERG

January 15, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

You have heard of the fabled, all-important home-field advantage? The Orioles turned that sucker around in their first season at Camden Yards. They established the fabled, all-important home-field disadvantage, winning more games on the road than in their shiny new digs.

It was no way to win a title, and, sure enough, the Orioles didn't. A lot of talk-show man-hours went into determining what was wrong, but, as riddles go, it wasn't a tough one. The new ballpark, with a short right-field fence, was built for a left-handed slugger. The Orioles were about the only team that didn't have one.

"As the season wore on, a lot of teams were using the short [right-field] porch more effectively than we were," general manager Roland Hemond said yesterday. "We were clearly at a disadvantage."

The trade for Harold Baines and his left-handed bat, announced yesterday, makes sense for the Orioles for several reasons, but none more so than he gives the club a better chance to win in the park where they'll play half their games.

Understand, Baines, 33, hits line drives to left-center almost as often as he hits home runs to right these days. Still, the Orioles clearly will benefit from a bat that can rattle the warehouse.

"As a left-hander with power, he'll make use of that short porch," Hemond said. "You can be sure of that."

Someone certainly needs to. Visitors totaled 29 of the 46 homers hit to right field or right-center at Camden Yards in '92, as well as 10 of the 16 balls hit off the tall wall in right field.

Brady Anderson was the only Oriole to take advantage of the 318-foot circumstances, hitting 12 homers there. Otherwise, left-handed-hitting opponents Mickey Tettleton, Mel Hall and Ken Griffey hit as many to right as any other Oriole. Local lefties Joe Orsulak, Chito Martinez and Sam Horn combined for just four in )) 365 home at-bats. Big Sam spent so much time measuring the wall that he got corkscrewed, or so it seemed.

Not to get carried away, but it's entirely possible that Baines, who hit 16 homers on a division-winner in Oakland last year, might make up the shortfall all by himself. He is on the downward slope of his career, having hit 20 homers only once since 1987, but he has never really had a bad year, and his 1992 showed that his is still a very productive, professional bat.

We all know that the Orioles, pockets full of cash, had the wherewithal to chase after Ruben Sierra, Baines' similarly left-handed (and younger, healthier and more attractive) free-agent teammate. But we all also know the story about the owner trying to sell the club, and, considering that the front office has been paralyzed, this qualifies as a neat little trade.

In the first place, the cost was minimal, a couple of Single-A pitchers. They've both got pretty ERAs, but they're miles from the bigs, and you just never know. The truth is that the A's just wanted to dump Baines. Having spent a fortune on Sierra and Mark McGwire, they mostly needed to unload salary. That ol' junk dealer himself, Hemond, trolls for such bargains as well as anyone in the game.

Baines' presence also assures manager Johnny Oates of a productive DH. There's a lot of talk going around about Glenn Davis coming back healthy, but he hasn't been healthy since June of 1990, and the Orioles shouldn't begin to count on him. Now, they don't have to.

If it does turn out that Davis is healthy, he can play first and Baines can DH. If Davis isn't healthy, David Segui can play first and Baines can DH. The only question, and it's not a small one, is whether Segui can produce as an everyday player. In any case, Baines can only help. Remember, the Orioles contended last season until they stopped hitting in September. In the end, they needed another bat. Well, here's one, and a pretty big one at that. Why not?

The deal was particularly sweet for Baines because he'd dreamed of playing for the Orioles since his childhood days on the Eastern Shore. Hemond, who gave Baines his pro start and has an obvious fondness for him, had tried several times before to bring Baines here.

"I thought it might happen after the '89 season," Baines said. "When it didn't, I pretty much gave up on the idea. That's what's real nice about this."

It should be interesting. His 13 years in the big leagues have been spent entirely at parks favorable to pitchers: Comiskey, Arlington, Oakland. No, Camden Yards wasn't exactly a soft touch in its first season, but it's clearly a place where a lefty with some power can do some damage. Maybe even break a window.

"The first time I saw the place, I knew it would be a real nice park for me," Baines said. "A perfect park, really."

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