Peters remains in Orioles' corner

Bill Tanton

July 22, 1993|By Bill Tanton

The Orioles' success this year is no mystery to a retired Baltimore County resident.

Maybe that's because the retiree is one of the most knowledgeable baseball men in the country -- Hank Peters, who was general manager of the Orioles from 1976 until the fall of '87.

The last two times the Orioles played in the World Series, in 1979 and 1983, it was with players brought together by Peters. Both years Hank was voted Major League Executive of the Year.

Peters retired 1 1/2 years ago as Cleveland Indians GM and, like so many other former Baltimore sports figures, decided to take up permanent residence here.

Peters by no means attends every ballgame at Camden Yards. Yesterday, while the Orioles were losing, 8-6, to Kansas City, Hank and his wife, Dot, were doing the sort of thing retired folks do.

They were sightseeing in Washington, showing their son and grandchild from out of town the Lincoln Memorial.

After 45 years in baseball, however, Peters is inextricably attached to the game.

"The Orioles' chances at this point are as good as anybody's," he says. "From what I know of pitching, their staff might be the best in the American League.

"They've got a couple of veterans [Fernando Valenzuela and Jamie Moyer] that you hold your breath on, but they're doing the job right now.

"Ben McDonald pitched the game of his life when he threw that one-hit shutout against Kansas City Tuesday night. It takes a while to learn how to pitch in the big leagues, especially when you have no minor-league experience. McDonald has been learning in the majors."

The other thing Peters likes about the Orioles is their balance.

"They don't have a player like a Barry Bonds," he says, "but they seem to have a different player who comes through every night. In a way that's better than relying so heavily on one ballplayer."

A player who very much remains part of the Orioles' heart and soul is one Peters signed in 1978 -- Cal Ripken Jr.

"There were scouts who wanted to sign Cal as a pitcher," Peters recalls. "Cal was seen as a two-position guy. He had a great arm, and they figured if it didn't work out for him as an infielder he could put on the toeplate and pitch.

"I used to think it would be wise for the Orioles to DH Cal once in a while to keep him off his feet while keeping the streak alive. Now I say let him do it his way. Cal's the type of athlete who likes to be in there."

Ripken is just one of many winners Peters brought to Baltimore. In Hank's first year, he brought in Reggie Jackson, who is about to go in the Hall of Fame.

While Jackson only played one year with the Orioles before jumping to the Yankees, Peters acquired -- from the Yankees -- Rick Dempsey, Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez. Those three plus three players harvested from Peters' farm system -- Ripken, Eddie Murray and Rich Dauer -- became the nucleus of pennant-winning clubs.

Well before Peters came to Baltimore, he signed an extraordinary bunch for the Athletics including Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Joe Rudi and Blue Moon Odom.

Another player Peters wanted to sign for the A's when they were in Kansas City was Boog Powell.

"Boog played at Key West High in Florida, but he had a poor state tournament," Peters says. "A lot of clubs lost interest then. We didn't. Neither did Baltimore.

"The Athletics were operating on a very tight budget. Baltimore's offer was much higher than ours and Boog accepted it. It broke the hearts of a couple of our scouts."

After Peters was fired here by late owner Edward Bennett Williams, he became GM at Cleveland. There he built up the talent pool, including Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle and Sandy Alomar.

"If the Indians hadn't lost three pitchers in that boating accident in spring training," Peters says, referring to the March deaths of Tim Crews and Steve Olin and the serious injury to Bobby Ojeda, "there's no telling what they might be doing in that division."

In a two-hour conversation with Peters, you touch a lot of bases. On reports that baseball is losing its popularity he says:

"Those things go in cycles. Interest goes up and down. I'm sure people get tired of hearing about all the money the players are making now."

On speculation that the game is hurt by not having a commissioner:

"It's not hurt by not having Fay Vincent as commissioner. Vincent is a nice man, but he did not have the qualities necessary."

On Earl Weaver: "Earl was an excellent manager. I hope he gets to the Hall of Fame. I know that's a goal he has in life."

On Joe Altobelli: "He's very much overlooked when people talk about the successes of this franchise. Joe won a world championship his first year [1983]. That's as many as Earl won."

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