Brawl puts fight back in Orioles

KEN ROSENTHAL

June 08, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

What got into Team Sleepwalk?

One minute, they can't hit Dennis Cook, the next minute, they're lining up to face Riddick Bowe.

We've heard of taking one for the team, but this is ridiculous. Glenn Davis still is waiting to connect this season. He does his best impersonation of an Oriole, and winds up with a broken jaw.

In a span of 12 hours, the Battlin' O's redefine the meaning of "swing away" in Baltimore, Gentle Glenn rushes to a Rochester teammate's defense in Virginia Beach, Va.

What's next, Mills vs. Foreman?

Don't laugh.

Don King and Eli Jacobs were seen huddling together last night, plotting a pay-per-view extravaganza from Camden Yards -- all profits to the Orioles, of course.

General manager Roland Hemond, meanwhile, was frantically working the phones, trying to sign Jesse "The Boogie Man" Ferguson to a Rochester contract.

Seriously, there's no politically correct way to say this, but Sunday's brawl with the Seattle Mariners was the best thing that happened to this team all season.

Yes, it would have been different if someone -- namely, Mike Mussina -- had gotten hurt. But as usual, the only serious injury was to Davis, in a separate incident in another state.

And you thought this team lacked fight.

To an outsider -- your average, ordinary, turn-the-other-cheek human being -- the brawl might seem like so much macho bluster. But the fact is, such incidents are part of the game.

The clubhouse was still buzzing yesterday, and why not? The Orioles had gone to war for each other. This is not a team known for such vivid displays of character.

"It brings everyone closer together," second baseman Harold Reynolds said. "It can't help but create unity. You find out who your friends are. I think it was healthy for us."

It was more than healthy.

It was downright necessary.

Remember in 1987, when the Orioles gave up 10 homers in Toronto without throwing a knockdown pitch? Or in '88, when they watched idly when Dave Parker and Dave Henderson taunted them with excessive home-run trots in Oakland?

For two months, the current team seemed just as passive, if not more so. Manager Johnny Oates kept raising the question of leadership, bemoaning the quiet nature of his players, driving himself crazy trying to spark a competitive fire.

VTC Finally, on Sunday, something snapped.

Want to know the roots of the incident? Go back to the spring of '92, when Rick Sutcliffe got together with a group of his new

teammates, including Cal Ripken, Joe Orsulak and Bob Milacki.

The conversation turned to the number of times Orioles hitters got knocked down by opposing pitchers the previous season.

"I said, 'I'll guarantee one thing, that ain't going to happen here, not now,' " Sutcliffe recalled. "They kind of looked at me, like, 'We'll see.' "

They saw, all right.

Sutcliffe threw two memorable retaliatory strikes last season, one at Chad Curtis, one at Candy Maldonado, both in September. He also lectured the Orioles' young pitchers at length about the importance of protecting their teammates.

Maybe Sutcliffe said something to Mussina after Chris Bosio threw at Harold Reynolds and Mark McLemore on Sunday, maybe he didn't. But, as he put it yesterday, "Ain't going to be anybody around here who doesn't protect people -- not with me."

So, where was Sutcliffe Sunday?

Front and center, baby.

"He was in the mix, letting everyone know we're not going to stand for it," Reynolds said. "And he was willing to take on anybody."

It's not that Sutcliffe advocates violence -- "We're role models," he said. "It's not something for kids to see." But the fight, he added, was not the "first, worst or last" in which he'll be involved.

We're not talking about headhunting. We're talking about self-defense, about unity. Ideally, a brawl like Sunday's never happens. But until baseball adopts more severe penalties, pitchers will take liberties. Liberties that demand a response.

Ask Philadelphia's fiery Dave Hollins, who warned his pitchers in spring training that he'd better not lead the National League in hit-by-pitches again. Or ask the 1986 New York Mets, who swaggered and fought their way to a world championship.

Now Team Sleepwalk is on the loose -- minus one.

By now, you know the refrain.

Get well soon, Gentle Glenn.

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