33rd Street shuttle offers lineup shuffle

JOHN EISENBERG

March 11, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ask the Orioles executives to list the advantages of having their Double-A club playing across town at Memorial Stadium this year, and they give you the stock answers. Makes scouting easier. Makes rehab assignments easier. Blah, blah.

Wake up, fellas! This is a chance to exercise a little creative management. Maybe gain an edge that makes a difference one night.

Here's the deal. Let's say it's an hour before a big game against the Yankees, and Chito Martinez feels a twinge in his shoulder. The trainer advises him to take the night off. That leaves manager Johnny Oates with one fewer player than the Yankees, and without a starting right fielder. Not a good situation.

But wait, sports fans! Taking batting practice at the same time right across town, getting ready for that night's Bowie Baysox game, is Jeffrey Hammonds, the Orioles' top draft pick last year and a right fielder of no small dimension.

Oates could always promote a reserve to the lineup, but there is no reason, none whatsoever, why he couldn't just pick up the Birdphone in his office -- hey, it's just a local call -- and call his Bowie counterpart, Don Buford, uptown on 33rd Street.

Oates: "Donnie, we need Hammonds, pronto."

Buford: "Right, skip."

Oates: "Get him on that park 'n' ride now, and I mean right now."

Buford: "Right, skip."

Fans can take a park 'n' ride shuttle from the Memorial Stadium parking lot to the front door of Camden Yards. Why can't the right fielder?

A cab ride costing approximately $10 would also do the trick, of course, provided the club was in a rare mood to splurge.

"Either way," assistant GM Frank Robinson said, "we would be more than happy to reimburse him."

Oates would then have a full complement of players and a new starting right fielder, and not a single baseball rule would have been broken or even bent. It's a perfectly legal, foolproof scheme. The lineups and rosters for a game are not official until the managers hand them to the plate umpire just before the first pitch.

Oates dismissed the plan yesterday. "I can't foresee getting involved in that kind of situation," he said.

OK, OK, we know it's still early, maybe too early to start angling so earnestly. Just file the idea away for later, skip. But it is an advantage waiting to be utilized, and what is baseball if not the eternal search for such? (See: midget, leading off.)

In fact, the idea almost has traditionalist underpinnings. Lineup chicanery is one of the cornerstones of baseball's hall of tomfoolery.

"It's been going on for years," Orioles GM Roland Hemond said.

The Red Sox have taken advantage of having their Triple-A club in Pawtucket, 35 miles from Fenway Park. Charlie Finley once had a minor-league team in San Jose, a couple of elephant steps from Oakland.

"And teams are always adding players to that night's roster at the last minute," Hemond said. "Sometimes it's a gamble if you're not sure the player is going to make it. If you leave a spot open and his flight gets delayed or something, you wind up short a man. There are a lot of nights when I'm running around making calls right up to the last minute."

There would be no such frantic concern with Hammonds already safely tucked into his seat on the park 'n' ride, motoring steadily toward Camden Yards. Why, he would be at the park earlier than Deion Sanders ever was for a playoff game.

It's such a fine idea that it makes you wish there weren't that rule freezing the rosters once the umpires had them in hand. The possibilities would be limitless.

Oates could smell a coming need for a late-game pinch hitter and phone Buford a couple of innings ahead of time. Or, if he wanted an extra left-hander out of the bullpen, why not send a Baysoxer over in a cab?

It's an advantage so potentially large that the Orioles should at least investigate whether there is a loophole in the rule. It is an article of baseball faith that most rules are breakable in certain circumstances, particularly if you swallow the evidence.

"But I don't think there's any way around this one," Hemond said.

He should check with the lawyers first, though. There might be some vague language in the wording of the antitrust exemption, or maybe a piece of fine print in the Basic Agreement. And if there isn't, he can always whine to the league office. It's worked before.

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